There are classes---and/or sometimes students---who love to try on a teacher's patience for size. I have just such a group this year...and the awful truth is, I actually like them. They make me crazy at times, but their only real issue is that they're 15 years old, not bad seeds.
It is a constant temptation for me to dumb down material for them. I know that I will have to fight them for every inch of attention and each precious moment of time on task. There are times I want to set aside some of the planned activities because I know it is at the limits of their focus. I battle with myself on a daily basis about installing the cruelest form of dictatorship imaginable and just assigning days on end of book work. Just so they'll be quiet. Just so I don't have to play tug of war all period. But how would they learn?
These are not dumb kids. I have to tell you that they ask very good questions---it's just that each word out of someone's mouth is something every kid wants to comment on. Getting through material takes forever.
In our last unit, I bravely led them through some thinking about whether or not a pesticide was feminizing frogs. It's a college level case study (you can access it here, if you're so inclined), but the data itself is comfortably within high school limits. I provided some "during reading" scaffolds and time to talk and reflect. We looked at information in three different days and then I provided a summative prompt for them to respond.
Three classes sailed through the thinking. We had good discussions. The difficult class? It was like pulling teeth just to get them to look at the material. But look they did. And you know what? That class had the highest percentage of students who wrote the essay...and I have to say that the writing isn't all that bad.
It is a temptation not to give challenging kids challenging work. But the simple truth of the matter is that they need it more than anyone else. I can't claim that appealing to their intelligence has made their behavior any more mature during class, but it reinforces for me that I just need to keep pushing them. As tempting as it is to give up on them and assume that their behavior will preclude any deep learning, I can't give in to that particular siren song. We'll have to find some way to keep on sailing.