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Dimensions of Inquiry: Academic Rigor

   Galileo Educational Network    November 4, 2016    Dimensions of Inquiry and Focus On Inquiry Research Series

Gaining deep understanding, developing strong habits of mind, and how you approach problems in multiple ways – that’s academic rigor.

The degree of academic rigor in a classroom is best summed up here, in this rubric describing the eight dimensions of discipline-based inquiry.

Academic rigor is the second of the eight dimensions, and in a nutshell, refers to the degree of complex thinking required by students as they:

  • Build knowledge that leads to deep understanding;
  • Work with multiple, flexible ways to approach the problem, issue or question using methods of inquiry central to the disciplines that underpin the problem, issue or question.
  • Develop habits of mind that encourage questions of evidence, and to determine viewpoints, patterns and connections.

During the Focus on Inquiry study, Galileo researchers recorded the cognitive level of students as they worked during class:

  • During the first and second portion of class time, students were most often observed remembering or reviewing information.
  • When it comes to demonstrating understanding and performing tasks that produce knowledge, making connections and examining underlying concepts occurred most often during the second and third portion of the class.

During classroom observations, researchers characterized the nature of intellectual challenge involved in students’ work by recording the frequency of the task and the proportion of students engaged.

When it comes to tasks that involve knowledge acquisition and performing tasks, here is what more students were found doing most often (from highest to lowest frequency):

  • Remembering or reviewing information,
  • Gathering new information,
  • Performing routine procedural / decoding tasks, and finally,
  • Doing work that is purely repetitive in nature.

When it comes to tasks that promote understanding and the use or production of knowledge, more students were doing the following most often. From highest to lowest frequency it was:

  • Making connections,
  • Examining underlying concepts,
  • Manipulating knowledge,
  • Problem solving,
  • Problem posing,
  • Idea integration,
  • Idea improvement,
  • Creating new works or creative work with ideas,
  • Knowledge critique,
  • Knowledge claim supported by reasons
  • Knowledge as something that is contestable.

One major observation shared by researchers and participating teachers was that despite the academic and intellectual engagement that took place in the classroom, developing tasks with intellectual challenge is an area that needs improvement. Findings from classroom observations suggest there is a slightly higher frequency of tasks and higher proportion of the class working with old information, in comparison to the frequency and proportion of students gathering new information for knowledge acquisition.

In relation to tasks that require understanding and knowledge production, there was a higher frequency and proportion of the class making connections and examining underlying concepts. In contrast, there was a lower frequency and at least one third of the class was challenged with tasks where knowledge is contestable.

It’s important great tasks develop what Deborah Meir (1995) calls strong ‘habits of mind’ and students understand different viewpoints are an essential component of understanding. That’s what is meant when we’re saying knowledge is contestable.

Great tasks can help students understand that the privilege of perspective is an essential component of power – and such tasks might help them discover voices and points of view that have been systematically silenced. In a great task, there should be more than one possible answer, or more than one possible path.

In the following video the teacher designed ten labs that highlighted the key concepts of trigonometry within different applied contexts. Observe the ways her knowledge of the subject matter interact with her pedagogy and knowledge of the students as learners of mathematics.

Read / download the Focus on Inquiry study here.