The Yoda Model – How to Invigorate Students Through Rigor


Reposted from the CORElaborate blog:

One of my favorite teachable moments is a scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Jedi Master Yoda orders his young student Luke Skywalker to “use the force” to lift his X-wing fighter out of the swamps of Dagobah. After unsuccessfully freeing his spaceship, Luke says in exasperation “you want the impossible.” Then, the pint-sized Yoda does what Luke believes is unachievable – he lifts the X-wing out of the water. “I don’t believe it!” Luke says in shock. Yoda sternly replies, “That, is why you fail.”

When I saw this scene as a kid I was in awe of Yoda. How could such a little guy lift something so massive? But, now as a seasoned educator, my gaze focuses on Luke’s reaction. Why does he fail? Was the task too difficult, or was he unprepared for the rigor that Yoda expected of him?

This scene crossed my mind while I attended a recent Common Core training in my district. The trainer, 2014 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year Amy Abrams, made a differentiation between why something is “difficult” for students vs. how teachers make content “rigorous” for their learners. Abrams said “difficult” was an idea or concept that is way beyond the comprehension or the developmental level of students. “Rigor,” on the other hand, is laying the foundation for students to tackle challenging work that is a step beyond their intellectual level. Perhaps my co-worker Hilari Anderson summed it up best, “rigor is invigorating, while hard is debilitating.”

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