Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Webb's Depth of Knowledge

Rigor.  Text Complexity.  Difficulty.  What do these words all mean in the world of thinking?  Teaching?  Learning?  In my last post, I wrote about a “take away” that I had from our ILA narrative scoring session.  In that reflection, I realized that our students have the mechanics (mostly) and drive (mostly) to write well; however, we need to extend student thinking to develop more complex, meaningful pieces.  One way to do that is to become familiar with (and use) Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DoK) to develop and expand rigor and complexity in student thinking

I learned about Webb’s Depth of Knowledge just last year when I was at a Larry Ainsworth Professional Development workshop about unwrapping Common Core State Standards and aligning our instructional sequences to those standards.  Except for unwrapping standards, I humbly admit that I never really used it.  I put it on a mental shelf with things that I learned about in PD sessions but would probably never use again.  Then, this past summer, Chris Lehman Extraordinare (follow him on Twitter to learn every day:  @iChrisLehman) refreshed my thinking by showing and modeling the importance of using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to plan daily lessons and assessments.  Chris, as always, broke it down in user-friendly terms that helped me to understand and apply the information.  And then again today, we focused on DoK at an assessment consortium meeting about the item development of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) with an emphasis on the performance task assessments.   Ok, three times in one year:  I think it's something I should research, I realized.  

So, what is Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and what’s the big deal? Well, like Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb's theories are based on research about student thinking to extend student learning.  Bloom's Taxonomy focuses on the tasks that students complete to deepen student understanding.  However, Webb's DoK centers on the thinking process, not just the product.  Webb’s Depth of Knowledge is about the cognitive demands (thinking process) of instruction, tasks, and/or assessments.  While Bloom's Taxonomy relies on the verb, Webb's DoK extends beyond the verb to what follows--- beyond the 'what' to the 'how'.    As we know, a verb alone can vary in terms of difficulty and complexity.  “Create”, for example, is a high level on Bloom’s taxonomy.  However, if you are asking students to “create a model of the human eye based on a textbook model,” little independent thinking has actually occurred from copying the model.  Students may not need additional background knowledge to complete the task.  There is little transfer of knowledge.   How many "creates" have you inserted into an objective and thought that you were tapping into higher-level, and perhaps even- critical- thinking?  We all have.  But Webb’s Depth of Knowledge challenges us to dig deeper beyond the verb and into the thinking process to expand student learning. 

Branching off of a “flipped classroom approach” and because I don’t pretend to be an expert on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, click here to review (or learn about) the four levels of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge continuum: 
         DoK1.     Recall and Reproduction
         DoK2.     Skills and Concepts
               DoK3.    Short Term Strategic Thinking
               DoK4.     Extended Thinking

I believe that each unit needs a mixture, or a balance, of all of the levels above.  There is a place for recall and reproduction.  I would even argue that the CCSS leans to recall and reproduction (DoK1) in the reading standards when "close reading" is high-lighted.   Daily lessons, even, can be a combination of these levels.  However, to help students grow and manage the multi-dimensional world ahead of them, we can't stop at DoK Levels 1 or 2.  Just because we ask students to create or analyze doesn't necessarily mean that we are providing a deep level of thinking (nor does it mean that we haven't provided it either).  We must consciously ask students to extend their thinking in order to teach them to improve their thinking

How do we apply Webb's Depth of Knowledge into our classrooms?  Strategically.  Click here for a video that walks through a social studies example addressing the content of the Gettysburg Address through the four levels of Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  

If we are asking students to research, for example, here are some ways that we might be able to integrate DoK into a research unit sequentially: 
DoK1.    Students identify and list topics that may interest them to research.  They search for books that may relate to the enduring understandings or essential questions for the unit.
DoK2.    Students choose a topic and expand on it by utilizing multiple sources.  Students collect and display notes based on structures that have been provided for them. 
DoK3.     Students choose the note-taking strategy or structure that works for them based on many samples and practice activities provided.  Students draw conclusions about different ways to assimilate the information to the reader based on the structures that we have provided and reflect on those processes in writing.  Students have used differentiated reasoning to make their informed decisions.  
DoK4.   Students analyze and interpret the information provided to them and relay the research in any way that they choose that best exemplifies the learning process.  Students make strategic choices about the information presented based on task, audience, and type of product based on their level of knowledge and analysis from multiple sources. 

How does that look in Writing Workshop?  I'll give it a tentative shot in the revision process (and open for feedback or better examples, please!): 

DoK1.     Teacher shows students how to revise writing in a mini-lesson by adding details.  Students go into their writing and identify and locate places to revise using the same strategy. (I do- you do). 
DoK2.     Teacher provides students strategies to revise their writing.  Students go back into their writing to use some of the strategies throughout their writing and identify patterns of their own writing.  The teacher may guide the student.    
DoK3.  Using mentor texts, teacher mini-lessons and revision strategies, students compare and critique writing strategies and structures to revise their writing by choosing appropriate and strategic parts to enhance their meaning.  
DoK4.  Students develop generalizations about the types of revisions used in different parts of texts to apply multiple revision strategies to their writing. Writers are synthesizing information across many texts to think critically about the choices they are making in their writing process.

Levels 1 and 2 usually have finite, or correct, answers.  Moving into levels 3 and 4, students are reasoning and exploring without the answer being exact, or "right"-- this is where the real thinking happens! Levels 3 and 4 involve a more time intense activity that requires real world investigation and application.  Independently, students are accessing their resources to apply their knowledge.   If we don't set students up for exciting experiences that can extend their thinking to level 4, our level 1 experiences are doomed!

Click here to view Karin Hess's Cognitive Rigor Matrix, or a professional development video with Karin Hess, which parallels Webb's Depth of Knowledge with Bloom's Taxonomy.  It's a complicated chart to read, but this chart will help you recognize the difference between Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge.  Sound a lot like differentiation and gradual release of responsibility?  Yup.  Sounds like that to me, too.  Here are additional tools that we can use to use to set students up for success based on the scaffolding and structure that all students need. 

As we continue our journey of curriculum review into curriculum alignment, we must remain conscious of our questioning, our modeling, and our guidance to teach students how to extend their thinking.   Students will be asked to extend their thinking on the new assessments, be it PARCC or SBAC; we must prepare them for these expectations.  And is that so bad?  Even if we shoot high and slightly miss the mark, haven't we developed our students to be better, independent thinkers?   Sounds like a win-win to me.  Rigor.  Text complexity.  Difficulty.  Thinking. Teaching.  Learning.  


  1. I will use this in my graduate education classes preparing future teachers.

  2. This is a very useful resource for both novice and veteran instructors. Thank you!

  3. How do I find the Chris Lehman DOK info?

  4. Is there a link to the DoK levels poster(s)?

    1. I'd be interested in the DoK levels poster(s) also!

  5. Thank you! A concise wealth information!

  6. This is wonderful! Do you have a larger version of the picture that lists the four levels? It has a cute illustration and I'd love to include it in my plan book to help me remember. The words got blurry when I tried to enlarge it :(

  7. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge really helpfull for me