The Rigor/Relevance Framework

Charlie Burroughs, Principal
Cambridge Middle School

Has your student ever come home and talked to you about rigor and relevance? Have you heard the term Quadrant D used at any time by your student? Did you ever wonder just what he/she was talking about? Has it been confusing and hard for you to understand?

In this article, I would like to explain what these terms mean and help you to understand what the Rigor/Relevance Framework is and why it is so important for parents and students to understand it.

The Rigor/Relevance Framework is a tool developed by Dr. Willard Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education. Rigor is defined as academic rigor and is learning in which students demonstrate a thorough, in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem-solving, evaluation or creativity.  The Rigor/Relevance Framework is based on two dimensions of higher standards and student achievement.

First, there is a continuum of knowledge that describes the increasingly complex ways in which all of us think. This is called the Knowledge Taxonomy (Bloom’s Taxonomy). It is based on six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: (1) knowledge/awareness, (2) comprehension, (3) application, (4) analysis, (5) synthesis and (6) evaluation.

The low end of the Knowledge Taxonomy involves acquiring knowledge and being able to recall or locate that knowledge in a simple manner. At this level a person can scan through thousands of bits of information in the brain to locate the desired knowledge. This is where knowledge/awareness, comprehension and application are used.

The higher end of the Knowledge Taxonomy involves more complex ways in which students use knowledge. This level would use analysis, synthesis and evaluation. At these levels students can take knowledge and assimilate the information and use it to solve multistep problems and create unique work and solutions.

If we put a graph together and had the Knowledge Taxonomy on the vertical axis and we had application on the horizontal axis starting at knowledge in one discipline and going all the way out to applying knowledge to real-world unpredictable situations, we can divide this graph into four quadrants. Each of these four quadrants can be labeled with a term that characterizes the learning or student performance.

Quadrant A is Acquisition. In this quadrant students gather and store bits of knowledge and information. Here students are expected to remember or understand this acquired knowledge.

Quadrant B is Application. In this quadrant students use acquired knowledge to solve problems, design solutions and complete work. The highest level of application is to apply appropriate knowledge to new and unpredictable situations.

Quadrant C is Assimilation. This is where students extend and refine their acquired knowledge to be able to use that knowledge automatically and routinely to analyze and solve problems, as well as create unique solutions.

Quadrant D is Adaptation. Here students have the competence to think in complex ways and also apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired. Even when confronted with perplexing unknowns, students are able to use extensive knowledge and skills to create solutions and take action that further develops their skills and knowledge.

This Rigor/Relevance Framework is easy to understand. It is based on traditional elements of education, yet encourages movement to application of knowledge instead of maintaining an exclusive focus on acquisition of knowledge. It is a simple, straightforward structure that offers a common language with which to express the notion of a more rigorous and relevant curriculum and encompasses much of what parents like you, business leaders and community members want students to learn.

Besides all of this, the Framework is versatile; it can be used in the development of instruction and assessment. Teachers in the Cambridge-Isanti School District are using it to measure their progress in adding rigor and relevance to their instruction. It also helps our  teachers  select appropriate instructional strategies to meet learner needs and higher achievement goals.

Students need to be able to function in all four quadrants as they learn. They need to learn in Quadrants A, B and C. However, the more they stretch themselves and learn in Quadrant D, the better it is for them to develop their higher thinking skills so necessary in this changing world.