became the enemy
of age-graded school
uniformity (and remains
so to this day).
Angus, D., Mirel, J., & Vinovskis, M.
(1988). Historical development of age-
stratification in schooling. Teachers College
Record, 90( 2), 211–236.
Goodlad, J., & Anderson, R. (1987). The
non-graded elementary school. New York:
Teachers College Press.
Grubb, N., & Lazerson, M. (2004). The
education gospel: The economic power of
schooling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kliebard, K. (2004). The struggle for the
American curriculum, 1893–1958. New
Labaree, D. (2010). Someone has to fail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mc Tighe, J., & Brown, J. (2005). Differentiated instruction and educational standards: Is détente possible? Theory into
Practice, 44( 3), 234–244.
Tomlinson, C. (2000). Reconcilable differences? Standards-based teaching and
differentiation. Educational Leadership,
58( 1), 6–11.
Tyack, D. (1974). The one best system. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering
toward utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Larry Cuban is professor emeritus of
education at Stanford University and past
president of the American Educational
Research Association; cuban@stanford
.edu. He is the author of As Good As It
Gets: What School Reform Brought to
Austin (Harvard University Press, 2010).
He blogs regularly at http://larrycuban
A Blend in Action
Veteran teacher Carol Donnelly teaches five classes of biology in her high
school: one honors class, one regular class, and three biology classes for
English language learners (ELLs). She uses the same basic lesson for all her
classes. However, she parcels the content out in smaller quantities for her
ELL classes while going into greater depth in her honors class.
Every Wednesday is laptop day. (All students in the school have laptops.)
Donnelly begins the class with a review of yesterday’s material on photosynthesis. Afterward, students open their laptops to watch animations of
photosynthesis that Donnelly has loaded on their computers. A pop-up quiz
appears after the animations. Donnelly walks around and checks student
scores. She then summarizes the concept of photosynthesis by questioning
students. Finally, she collects the homework.
In her senior honors class, students usually start off by opening their
laptops and working on their individually designed science fair projects. This
is the most highly differentiated area of instruction among her classes. Donnelly also goes on to lecture on the Calvin cycle of photosynthesis. In other
biology classes, however, she has truncated this lecture and supplemented
it with explanatory text.
One laptop lesson on plasma membrane ends up extending over three
days for Donnelly’s English language learners. Using Kerpoof multimedia
software, students draw and label parts of the plasma membrane, view
videos and research information on the Internet, and complete a worksheet
that Donnelly has created to accompany the lesson.
Donnelly also has another way of differentiating her lessons: She encourages students to blog. Donnelly reads the blogs and comments but gives no
grades on entries. After one prompt that she gave her regular and honors
students concerning Thanksgiving and tryptophan—a sleep-inducing amino
acid found in turkey—students, after reading the links she had provided,
continued to blog on the chemical and about what it does in the human
Technology has been a plus in terms of differentiation. When Donnelly asked students to compare the features of a cell with anything they
wanted—such as school, family, friends, or a sports team—they wrote stories, took photos off the web, created digital videos, and developed a digital
presentation using Keynote.
For nonlaptop days, Donnelly does traditional science lessons that include
conducting a wet lab experiment with pairs of students working together;
lecturing; and having students take notes, view video clips, and complete
worksheets drawn from chapters in the textbook that are aligned with the
state standards in biology.
Students become engaged with this combination of animation, lectures,
videos, and text that Donnelly skillfully integrates with content. Although
she remains within the tradition of teacher-centered instruction in her different classes, she has customized her lessons and created a mix of instructional approaches.
Author’s note: The teacher’s name is a pseudonym. This description is based on my
observations in this teacher’s classroom in 2009–10.