professional development and program consultation 

The framework designed by Norman Webb (1997; 2002) categorizes depth of knowledge into four levels. 

D.O.K.-1 questions require students to recall or reproduce knowledge and/or skills to come up with an answer that is either correct or incorrect.  Questions at this particular level usually involves working with facts, terms, and/or properties of objects.

D.O.K.-2 questions expect students to think deeper about how to answer questions by applying the knowledge and skills they have acquired and developed. Such teaching and learning experiences involve students working with or applying skills and/or concepts to tasks related to the field of study in a laboratory setting.  They also require students to follow a set of principles, categories, and protocols in order to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task. 

A D.O.K.-3 question challenges students to think critically and strategically how to answer a question acceptably, accurately, appropriately, and authentically.  They challenge and engage students to demonstrate and communicate higher levels of thinking such as analysis and evaluation but also communicate their thinking and reasoning behind their responses and results.

A D.O.K.-4 question engages students to examine and explore concepts and content deeply and think creatively how they can use their knowledge, understanding, and awareness to answer questions or come up with new ideas, knowledge, perspectives, and ways of thinking about what they are learning.  Such questions encourage students to examine and explore how to address, handle, settle, or solve real world circumstances, issues, problems, and situations through research, investigation, experimentation, and creative design.  They also expect students to express and share their claims, conclusions, decisions, and reasons using oral, written, creative, and technical expression. 

Sounds simple, right?

Then why is there so much confusion as to what qualifies as deeper knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness?  

Why is there so much concern over how students' depth of knowledge of concepts and content will be assessed and evaluated on assessments such as the PARCC or the Smarter Balanced exams?  

How would you explain this academic concept to a new teacher who has just entered the profession or moved from a state that had not adopted the Common Core State Standards?

How would you explain this cognitive schema to a veteran teacher who is used to aligning their instruction to the categories within the Cognitive Domain of Bloom's Taxonomy or its revised version which has split knowledge into its own dimension?

How would you explain this instructional focus to parents and students who for years have been instructed, assessed, and evaluated based upon how much they know, understand, and can do rather than how deeply they know, understand, and aware of a concept or content in order to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task?

How can we develop instructional activities and assessments that not only stimulate student thinking and deepen their knowledge, understanding, and awareness about what they are learning but also measure and monitor the level of thinking and depth of knowledge they can demonstrate and communicate?

We can teach them like game show contestants.

Now wait a minute.  I'm not suggesting we turn our classroom into entertainment centers in which students compete with their classmates as to who can answer questions, address problems, or accomplish tasks correctly or successfully for a prize or reward.  I'm suggesting that they can use the format of questions, problems, and tasks on various game shows to challenge and engage students to demonstrate and communicate different levels of knowledge, understanding, thinking, and awareness.

D.O.K.-1 activities generally resemble the kind of questions contestants are asked on 
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? or Jeopardy! - multiple choice or short answer questions that require demonstrating and communicating factual knowledge of specific details, elements, and information correctly.  Such questions are more difficult than complex, requiring students to work hard at remembering so many details correctly, which is why Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Jeopardy! are two of the most difficult game shows on the air.  However, such questions can help students develop the background knowledge and foundational understanding they will need to think deeper about what they are learning. 

D.O.K.-2 activities are similar to the competitive tasks presented on shows such as 
Top Chef or Hell's Kitchen.   These shows are like a lab experience in which students actively apply their knowledge, understanding, and skills to complete and are evaluated based upon their ability to produce a correct, desired, or specific result.  It expects students to use what they have learned to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task.  As with Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef, D.O.K.-2 learning experiences focus heavily on skills-based performance, expecting students to demonstrate their ability to use the factual, conceptual, and procedural knowledge they have acquired in a specific area, discipline, or subject.

D.O.K.-3 activities are similar to the problems and tasks presented on game shows such as 
Survivor or The Apprentice​.   Both shows are prime examples of problem-based learning that challenges students to think critically and strategically about how to answer a question, address a problem, or accomplish a task.  They also emphasize collaboration in that the questions, problems, and tasks posed, presented, and provided cannot be answered, addressed, or accomplished alone or immediately.  The individual competitions on Survivor and the specific tasks on The Apprentice are more  D.O.K.-2 experiences in that they expect competitors to use what they have learned to complete a task.  However, as a whole, these shows expects competitors to be strategic in their approach and process, thinking critically and creatively in how they can use their knowledge and skills to "win" or "survive".  They also expect competitors to defend and justify their actions and decisions.  That's what a D.O.K.-3 learning experience expects students to do - think critically about how and why something can or could be done, think creatively about how could something be done or what else could be done, and make choices and defend their decisions.
D.O.K.-4 activities are like the products pitched on
Shark Tank.  A student would be challenged to think deeply about how to design and develop an innovative or inventive plan, project, or product that addresses a particular circumstance, issue, problem, or situation; plots out the plan or produces a prototype; tests their idea or design; and then presents their conclusions to a panel, defending, explaining, and justifying their reasoning and results.  D.O.K.-4 learning experiences can resemble Shark Tank by having students pitch and present what they have designed, developed, or done and have their project evaluated by the teacher and their peers as to whether it answers the essential question of the unit or class, addresses a particular objective, and teaches them something new about the concept or content they are learning.

So when you are planning your D.O.K. activities this year, consider which game show your question, problem, or task will appear and how it expects to students to demonstrate and communicate their thinking - and let's make a D.O.K.!


A Game Show Approach to Teaching and Learning for Depth of Knowledge

By Erik M. Francis, M.Ed., M.S.

Originally Published September 2016, ASCD Edge

Updated February 2017