Sunday, November 11, 2012

Depths of Knowldege (DOK) is More Than an Acronym!

It has been several weeks since I spent a wonderful Saturday in New York City learning with my colleagues at the  Teachers College Readers and Writers Project 83rd Saturday Reunion.  I attended several energetic and informative sessions that day with colleagues from my school district who decided it was a great idea to spend a Saturday sitting in workshops learning how to enhance and improve their craft.  I just love that!!

One of the best workshops that I had the pleasure of attending was Chris Lehman's session entitled: Depths of Knowledge (DOK) is More than an Acronym: Use this New Lens to Revise Our Teaching so That Students Are Working at the Top of Their Game.  I must say that this was the first time that I had the pleasure of attending one of his workshops and I look forward to attending future sessions.  One thing that I have learned after many years of attending PD sessions is that the presenter is as important as the subject matter and in this case both were exceptional.

Webb's Depths of Knowledge Wheel is familiar to many of us as a way to look at student understanding that is a bit different than Bloom's Taxonomy; however, it basically still amounts to a list of verbs. Not so! While the session focused on Webb, Lehman spent some time explaining the connection between the two, including Webb's work with Bloom on the taxonomy.  But, most of the session focused on how educators could use Depths of Knowledge to reflect upon their students and themselves.

Here are some of my takeaways from the workshop.  I was typing furiously, so I hope I caught everything.

1. Most assessments do not necessarily assess what we think they do.  The majority of assessments are at lower levels (levels 1 and 2).

2. Chris Lehman used a wood shop analogy that helped me to understand the levels of DOK more clearly.

  • Level 1 - Recall is largely teacher dependent. 
    • "This is a hammer.  This is a saw.  Now go back to your stations and name your tools."
    • Here we have very basic factual retrieval
  • Level 2 - Skill/Concept is also largely teacher dependent 
    • "I am going to show you how to hammer two pieces of wood together." I show you and explain steps and repeat.  I send you back to your table and ask you to hammer two pieces of wood together.
    • This level assumes a basic knowledge of vocabulary and concepts.
In levels 1 and 2 students do things whether they are right are wrong.  They essentially don't necessarily know why they are doing the task just what it is and how to do it.

  • Level 3 - Strategic Thinking is highly learner dependent.
    • "I am going to show you how to make a bird house.  You are going to make any kind of birdhouse you want based upon my instruction."
    • In this level students must put together concepts they already know and steps they already know, but they must also make choices with that information.
  • Level 4 - Extended Thinking is also highly learner dependent.
    • "There is a flood coming and we need to close the workshop and build a dam for the town."
    • In this level the teacher is expecting the students to make their own plans, think strategically, and create something.
    • This level essentially asks students to "problematize things."  This is a skill that we need to teach children.  It causes questions along the way and then students must come up with the solution(s).  (The dam could leak, what do we do?)
3. DOK allows us to see our students more clearly.  Looking at their thought processes by questioning them about it gives us a glimpse into their thinking.  We should be teaching children to think meta-cognitively.   We need to know what they are thinking, even from the start in September.  "We have to think of September as not the first month of school but the 11th.  It is the 11th month of everything else they have ever learned before."  We need to see what kids are drawing on to do today's work. We do this through questions:
  • Can you teach me how to...?  Show me an example of what you were just talking about.
  • Have you done this before?
  • What have you learned that can help you complete this learning task?
4. If students cannot talk meta-cognitively about what they are doing, are they learning?  This concept is key in the classroom.  We don't want students who can simply mimic what they have seen demonstrated or heard in a rote fashion; we want students who understand what they are learning, how they are learning, and how they can build upon previous learning skills to learn new and different things.  With this understanding of their own learning process, they have the capability of tackling the level 3 and 4 tasks because they have more than facts and concepts, they have deeper thinking skills.

5.  DOK allows us to reflect upon our students and in turn upon ourselves.  This involves building a reflective cycle.  The teacher teaches something and then looks to the students' DOK levels as an assessment of how they taught it.  This leads the teacher to ask the questions, "what did I do? what can I do to move you forward from your current level?"

6.  Before having students start independent work, get them in the habit of writing two things that they already know that could help them do this work.  This is a kick start to thinking about thinking.

7. Apply Webb's Depths of Knowledge to the questioning used during Writers Workshop conferencing to determine the students' level and then base each conference on the appropriate level.  This method allows for differentiated conferencing.  The example used involved conferencing about character development.
  • Start at level 4 - "What are you thinking about as you revise today?"  If the student takes off into a well thought out explanation of their process and how they intend to move forward in revision, continue the questioning at this level and extend.  If not, move down to the next level.
  • Level 3 - "One thing I think about is, 'do my characters seem like real people?'  There are many ways to do that.  What are things that you already know how to do to make your characters seem real?"  With this question, the conference is at the strategic thinking level and if the student can respond to this prompt the conversation can remain at this level.  If not....
  • Level 2 - "One way to make your characters seem more real is to describe micro-actions, you first picture the scene, then...."  This is much more skill based and it does not ask for as much thought process.  The teacher takes the child through the process of visualizing and then the student can work through the character development.  If the student can do this, then the conference stays at level two, if not...
  • Level 1 - "Let's talk through doing this for your character.  First, what was the scene? Tell me what you see.  Okay, write that."  At this level of conferencing the teacher is holding the hand of the student and helping them work through the character development.

In this 50 minute workshop Chris Lehman moved quickly though Webb's Depths of Knowledge, provided real examples of how DOK is a useful tool for reflection, and culminated with an application in Writers Workshop conferences.  It is important for teachers to understand the level of their students and help them along the continuum as they grow in their writing and in their thinking.  I am looking forward to learning more from Chris Lehman through twitter (@ichrislehman), his blog,  and future workshops!

(Everything in this post is based upon my notes from Chris Lehman's presentation at 2:00pm on October 27, 2012 at Teachers College in New York City)

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  1. Great insights herein, Bruce. And thanks for sharing. Even though the means by which the presenter illustrated the point was not directly related to the argument for the comprehensive school, I found myself reading, and more readily understanding, just how important a return and new newfound commitment, to varied hands-on coursework, such as wood shop, can be to our students can and should be. The plumber and the carpenter are problem solvers, perhaps even more so at times than the academics. A return to meaningful problem solving, and ultimately, the transfer of skills, is, and always must be, the ideal.


  2. Frank,

    Thanks for the comment. It hadn't occurred to me that the analogy used to discuss DOK also made a greater statement regarding priorities in education. I am not sure that was the intention, but interesting nonetheless.

    I think that it is important that we help students think meta-cognitively in order to understand their own learning. DOK gives us a tool in that pursuit.