October 21, 2021

By Ashley Klint, Senior Content Manager

Alignment between standards or unpacking learning targets during assessment creation and instructional planning is crucial for developing a year-long Curricular/Assessment Scope and Sequence. Depth of Knowledge (DOK) is the thread that ties everything together. 

Consider the following scenario: educators identify priority standards, possibly unpack standards into learning targets, plan their instruction, and then give some sort of assessment—whether it be a state test, district test, or a grade-level common assessment.

Most likely, the results from these assessments would be disappointing. This is because the instructional Depth of Knowledge almost certainly would not match the Depth of Knowledge on the assessment. 

Backward planning, where teams…

…provides much better student data that allows teams to improve teaching and learning. 

This blog explores the importance of Depth of Knowledge (DOK).

What is Depth of Knowledge?

Depth of Knowledge is a cognitive rigor model developed by Dr. Norman Webb in 1997. The DOK model involves four levels that describe different depths of student engagement required to complete a task.

It was originally developed to systematically analyze how well standardized tests aligned with the expectations of the content standards they sought to assess. However, the usage of the DOK model has since evolved to evaluate all educational materials including standards, assessment questions and tasks, curriculum, etc.

DOK levels provide educators with a common language to effectively communicate about the required level of thinking students must be able to demonstrate as articulated in the standards—and whether teaching, learning, and assessment are aligned with those expectations.

What are the 4 Depth of Knowledge levels?

The four levels of Depth of Knowledge are:

  1. Recall and reproduction
  2. Skills and concepts
  3. Short-term strategic thinking
  4. Extended thinking

Let’s explore examples of each of these levels.

Level 1 Depth of Knowledge examples

For Level 1 DOK, students must recall or reproduce knowledge or skills. The content at this level usually deals with facts, details, calculations, and simple procedures.

Examples of DOK Level 1 lessons and assessments may include:

  • Fill-in-the-blank tasks
  • Reciting math facts
  • Explaining or demonstrating something
  • Identifying parts of speech
  • Using a map key to locate information
  • Measuring and recording data

Level 2 Depth of Knowledge examples

For Level 2 DOK, students must demonstrate skills while applying multiple concepts. The content at this level involves making basic inferences, summarizing, estimating, and classifying.

Examples of DOK Level 2 lessons and assessments may include:

  • Diary entries
  • Graphic organizers
  • Spreadsheets
  • Timelines
  • Survey development
  • Mind maps

Level 3 Depth of Knowledge examples

For level 3 DOK, students must use higher-order short-term strategic thinking skills to explore questions with more than one possible outcome and solve real-world problems.

Examples of DOK Level 3 lessons and assessments may include:

  • Literary critiques
  • Complex graphs
  • Short stories
  • Videos or podcasts
  • Storyboards
  • Debates

Level 4 Depth of Knowledge examples

For level 4 DOK, students must use extended thinking as they integrate higher-order thinking processes, reflection, and adjustment of plans over time. This level often includes collaboration in a project-based setting.

Examples of DOK Level 4 lessons and assessments may include:

  • Research reports
  • Video games
  • Multimedia projects
  • Anthologies
  • Documentaries
  • Plays

How to determine Depth of Knowledge

A common misconception is that DOK can be easily identified from the verbs used in a given standard or learning expectation. A quick search for “Depth of Knowledge” on Google returns many image results showing a wheel of verbs categorized by the 4 levels. However, Dr. Norman Webb himself has disputed this resource.

Though the verb may provide a clue, to determine the DOK of a given standard or learning objective, the focus should be on what comes after the verb. Understanding the concepts described after the verb of the standard—in combination with the mental processing required to achieve that level of understanding—are the key components to identifying the DOK of a given learning objective.

What Depth of Knowledge measures

Depth of Knowledge measures how deeply students know, understand, and are aware of what they are learning to answer a question or solve a problem. It categorizes tasks by the complexity of thinking—not difficulty—used to complete them.

Low DOK does not necessarily mean low difficulty and vice versa.

For example, if I were to ask you to name the first President of the United States, you would simply need to recall the answer (DOK 1), and the likelihood of getting the correct answer is high (low difficulty).

Now imagine if I were to ask you to name all of the US presidents, in order, along with the years during which they served. Like before, you would need to recall the answer (DOK 1), but the likelihood of getting the correct answer has plummeted (high difficulty). The difficulty of the task could decrease over time as you study the presidents, but the complexity will never change.

Using DOK in the classroom

Discover Renaissance solutions that help you to assess students’ Depth of Knowledge.

Leveraging Depth of Knowledge to support learning

Knowing the DOK of standards is critical to ensuring that we are planning instruction and choosing standards-based materials that match the complexity in which students will be expected to show their understanding on end-of-year accountability assessments and, more importantly, in college and careers.

Students should be given ample opportunity to engage at the level(s) of complexity intended by the standards, including opportunities at the lower DOK levels at the beginning of the instructional progression. Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrices provide curricular examples by content area and are a valuable resource when planning instruction and designing assessments that match the depth of the expectations of the standards.

When designing assessments, questions and tasks should be chosen that align with the cognitive complexity expectations of the standards as well. By choosing assessment content that provides students with various opportunities to demonstrate their understanding across different DOK levels, educators can monitor and more deeply understand where students are in their learning and which standards may require additional intervention and resources to get them up to the depth expectations.

Depth of Knowledge summary

To sum up what we have learned about Depth of Knowledge, let’s break it down into what it IS and IS NOT.

What DOK is

  • Depth of Knowledge is a language system that can differentiate between levels of complexity regarding how students engage with their educational materials.
  • Depth of Knowledge can be used to interpret questions, prompts, tasks, standards, and learning objectives.
  • Depth of Knowledge fosters intentionality in the way educators teach. It helps ensure that the complexity of expectations is understood and that lessons include opportunities for students to engage at those levels.
  • Depth of Knowledge helps us to discern between complexity and difficulty.

What DOK is not

  • Depth of Knowledge is not used to evaluate the complexity of a topic or text.
  • Depth of Knowledge is not a rubric for measuring achievement.
  • Depth of Knowledge is not a measure of how students engage.
  • Depth of Knowledge doesn’t rate a learning progression from low to high complexity.
  • Depth of Knowledge doesn’t reflect importance or value—one level of DOK isn’t better than any other.

To learn more about how Renaissance products are aligned with DOK and can help provide deeper insights into student learning, contact our team.

Share this post