How "Depth of Knowledge" Drives Learning and Assessment

What is "Depth of Knowledge"?

depth of knowledge
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Depth of Knowledge also referred to as D.O.K.,  is the complexity or depth of understanding required to answer or explain an assessment related item or a classroom activity. The concept of depth of knowledge was developed through research by Norman L. Webb in the late 1990’s. Webb was a senior research scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

Webb originally developed depth of knowledge for mathematics and science standards.

However, the model has been expanded and used in language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social studies. His model has increasingly become more popular in state assessment circles.

Webb identified four distinct depth of knowledge levels. The complexity of an assessment task is increasingly more difficult as the level often increases requiring multiple steps to complete. Does this mean that learning and assessment should not include level 1 task? On the contrary, learning and assessment should include a diversified set of tasks requiring students to exhibit a wide range of problem-solving skills within each level of complexity.

Breaking Down the Depth of Knowledge Levels

Level 1 includes basic recall of facts, concepts, information, or procedures. This is the rote learning or memorization of facts. This is an essential component of learning. Without a strong foundation of basic knowledge, students find it difficult to perform more complex tasks.

Mastering level 1 tasks build a foundation allowing students to attempt to complete higher level tasks successfully.

Example: The 22nd President of the United States (1885-89) was Grover Cleveland. He was also the 24th President of the United States (1893-97).

Level 2 includes skills and concepts such as the use of information (graphs) or requires two or more steps with decision points along the way.

The foundation of level 2 is that it often requires multiple steps to solve. You must be able to take what is there and fill in certain gaps. Students cannot simply recall the answer though some prior knowledge is likely to be used. Students must be able to explain "how" or "why" in level 2 items.

Example: Compare and contrast a composite volcano, a cinder cone volcano, and a shield volcano.

Level 3 includes strategic thinking that requires reasoning and is abstract and complex. Students must analyze and evaluate complex real world problems with predictable outcomes. They must be able to reason their way through the problem logically.  Level 3 questions often require students to pull from multiple subject areas utilizing a wide-range of skills to come up with a solution that works.

Example: Write a persuasive essay, citing evidence from other sources such as text, to convince your school principal to allow students to have and use their cell phones in class.

Level 4 includes extended thinking such as an investigation or application to solve complex real world problems with unpredictable outcomes.  Students must strategically analyze, evaluate, and reflect over time often having to change their approach on their way to coming up with an amicable solution.

Example: Invent a new product or create a solution that solves a problem or helps make things easier for someone within the confines of your school.

How Teachers Can Utilize Depth of Knowledge

Teachers are most familiar with Depth of Knowledge as a term related to assessment.  Most classroom assessments consist of level 1 or level 2 type questions. It is rare that a level 3 question is posed in a typical classroom, and a level 4 problem is virtually non-existent. Level 3 and 4 questions are more complex to develop, and they are also more difficult for teachers to score. Depth of Knowledge may also be expanded to include classroom activities. Students need to be exposed to a variety of task at differing levels of complexity.  Growth occurs when students are stretched outside their normal comfort zone.

  Level 3 and 4 activities are challenging in different ways for both students and teachers, but they also offer many benefits that Level 1 and Level 2 activities cannot provide. Teachers would be best served to use a balanced approach when deciding how to implement Depth of Knowledge into their classroom.

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Meador, Derrick. "How "Depth of Knowledge" Drives Learning and Assessment." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2016, Meador, Derrick. (2016, September 8). How "Depth of Knowledge" Drives Learning and Assessment. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "How "Depth of Knowledge" Drives Learning and Assessment." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).