How Depth of Knowledge Drives Learning and Assessment

Everything You Need to Know About Webb's Depth of Knowledge

depth of knowledge
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Depth of knowledge (DOK) refers to the level of understanding required to answer a question or perform an activity. This concept is most often applied to the thinking that students do during assessment and other standards-driven evaluation. Depth of knowledge is largely believed to have been developed in the 1990s by Norman L. Webb, a researcher at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The depth of knowledge model has been highly popularized in the public education system.

The Purpose of the DOK Framework

Though originally developed for mathematics and science standards, DOK has been adapted for use in all subjects and is utilized most often in the creation of state assessment. This model ensures that the complexity of assessments align with standards being assessed. When assessment follows the DOK framework, students are given a series of increasingly difficult tasks that gradually demonstrate that they are meeting expectations and allow assessors to evaluate their comprehensive depth of knowledge.

These assessment tasks are designed to capture the full scope of proficiency required to satisfy a standard, from the most basic to most complex and abstract units of knowledge and skill. That means that an assessment should include tasks from level 1 through 4—Webb identified four distinct depths of knowledge—and not too much of any one type of task. Assessment, just as the learning that precedes it, should be diversified and varied.

DOK in the Classroom

DOK is not reserved for state assessment—small-scale, classroom assessment uses it too. Most classroom assessment consists of primarily level 1 and level 2 tasks because level 3 and 4 tasks are difficult to develop and score. However, teachers need to ensure that their students are exposed to a variety of tasks at differing levels of complexity to learn and grow and in order to accurately assess whether expectations are met.

This means that teachers should design higher-level tasks though they require more time and effort because they offer benefits that simpler activities do not and show with more accuracy the full extent of a student's abilities. Teachers and students alike are best served by balanced assessment that calls on every depth of knowledge in some way.

Level 1

Level 1 is the first depth of knowledge. It includes recall of facts, concepts, information, and procedures—this is the rote memorization and basic knowledge acquisition that makes higher-level tasks possible. Level 1 knowledge is an essential component of learning that does not require students to go beyond stating information. Mastering level 1 tasks builds a strong foundation on which to build.

Example of Level 1 Assessment Task

Question: Who was Grover Cleveland and what did he do?

Answer: Grover Cleveland was the 22nd president of the United States, serving from 1885 to 1889. Cleveland was also the 24th president from 1893 to 1897. He is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms.

Level 2

Level 2 depth of knowledge includes the limited application of skills and concepts. A common assessment of this is the use of information to solve multi-step problems. To demonstrate level 2 depth of knowledge, students must be able to make decisions about how to apply facts and details provided to them as well as filling in any gaps using context clues. They must go beyond simple recall to answer questions about and make connections between pieces of information.

Example of Level 2 Assessment Task

Compare and contrast composite/stratovolcanoes, cinder cones, and shield volcanoes.

Level 3

Level 3 DOK includes strategic thinking and reasoning that is abstract and complex. Students completing a level 3 assessment task must analyze and evaluate composite real-world problems with predictable outcomes. They need to apply logic, employ problem-solving strategies, and use skills from multiple subject areas to generate solutions. There is much multitasking expected of students at this level.

Example of Level 3 Assessment Task

Conduct and analyze the results of a survey about homework in your school. Decide what question you hope to answer. Represent this data in a graph and be able to present a conclusion about your findings.

Level 4

Level 4 includes extended thinking to solve complex and authentic problems with unpredictable outcomes. Students must be able to strategically analyze, investigate, and reflect while working to solve a problem, changing their approach to accommodate new information. This type of assessment requires highly sophisticated and creative thinking because it is open-ended by design—there is no correct answer and a student must know how to evaluate their progress and determine whether they are on track to a feasible solution for themselves.

Example of Level 4 Assessment Task

Invent a new product or create a solution to a problem in order to make a fellow student's life easier.

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