Incorporating Rigor Into Lesson Plans

Knowledge utilization can be a short trip or a deeper dive.

Rigor occurs when students can demonstrate mastery of a standard with autonomy. Consider the level of cognition that you want students to reach in each activity and the instructional strategies that will make that happen. Once you’ve done this, you can develop learning goals and scales that match assessment to the required type of thinking.

During the retrieval phase, students experience three types of thinking processes:

  1. Recognition
  2. Recall
  3. Execution


These processes must occur in order; students can’t execute something that they don’t first recognize and recall.

Next comes comprehension. At this level, students assimilate the new information to what they’ve already learned. Here, they interact with the new content so they can integrate and symbolize it.

After that is analysis. Students use inductive and deductive reasoning to engage in classifying, analyzing, specifying, matching, and generalizing. This type of thinking requires them to consider multiple summaries of various aspects of the content to draw a conclusion or support an inference.

Finally, students reach the knowledge utilization phase, in which they consider what they have learned to generate hypotheses involving complex tasks. This can be a short trip or a deeper dive.

Goals and Scales

Consider this process as you plan, organizing your thinking around the critical content. Start with identifying the learning goals and determining how you can represent them on the scale. For example, if a learning goal is at an analysis level of cognition, Level 4 should include analysis and/or knowledge utilization, while Level 2 is at the comprehension level.

Perhaps one reason the use of goals and scales has such an impact on student learning is that it communicates to students, in a descriptive way, what it means to be proficient in an area of content. To accomplish this, scales must represent evidences with specificity. They need to clarify what you want students to know and do at each level.

Connecting to Instructional Strategies

Once the scale is built, it’s time to think about instructional strategies, such as those in the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, which will move students through the levels of cognition identified on the scale.

  • To get students working at a comprehension level or retrieving information from memory, consider strategies from Design Question 2.
  • To get them working at an analysis level, where they’re drawing conclusions and making inferences, select strategies from Design Question 3.
  • Strategies from Design Question 4 are applicable in every content area. The connection to complex tasks gives the learning a greater feeling of relevance and helps increase rigor.


Measuring Mastery

It’s absolutely crucial that that what you use to assess learning is as demanding as the level of cognition in the standard. This is the only way to gain insight into whether students can demonstrate mastery of the standard. Ask yourself: Do these items require students to autonomously demonstrate the level of rigor needed for mastery of a standards-based assessment?

In addition, grade-level standards are often taught and measured in “bundles,” rather than in isolation. When assessments match the rigor in the standards and students become accustomed to tracking their progress using scales and rubrics, it gives teachers a clear sense of students’ future performance—not only on current curriculum-based assessments, but also on standardized tests.

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