Edmentum’s Partnership with WebbAlign, Part 1: The Language of DOK

Thursday, January 28, 2016 -- Sara Christopherson

Today, we're kicking off a series with the WebbAlign team, the leading provider of training in assessment and standards alignment using the depth of knowledge (DOK) framework. Edmentum is excited to be one of WebbAlign's three DOK-Certified Partners, and throughout this series, we'll be taking a look at how its incorporation in curriculum and materials benefits students and teachers in the classroom.

I’m from Wisconsin, so let’s talk about cheese. In case it’s not already on your calendar, the World Championship Cheese Contest is coming up in March 2016 in Madison, WI. Now, imagine you are a judge for this contest. How would you describe the flavor profile, body, and texture of the cheeses you taste? How would you differentiate between and among the parmesans or the cheddars? One thing’s for sure: it’s tough to talk about something if you don’t have the necessary language for the topic.

Are you wondering what this has to do with education? In the world of education today, we are talking about rigor. We are talking about challenging standards, college and career readiness, problem solving, and critical thinking. Overall, we are talking about giving students more opportunities to engage in high-complexity tasks. Just as it’s hard to judge cheese without the appropriate language, it’s also hard to describe and evaluate content complexity without an appropriate language system to do so. And that’s why depth of knowledge (DOK) is so powerful.

DOK is a language system that helps us talk about content complexity and differentiate between and among the different degrees of content complexity expressed in educational materials. You can think of DOK as a lens through which educators can more clearly view the complexity expressed in the learning materials we use and develop.

The DOK framework was developed by Dr. Norman Webb in the late 1990s to inform alignment studies of standards and assessments. A key component of test validity is the alignment of the test with the standards it assesses. One key criterion for alignment is that the complexity expected in a standard is expressed in the corresponding assessment items that purport to assess the standard. Dr. Webb developed the DOK language system to best fit the needs of comparing the content complexity expressed in standards and in assessment items. Today, the DOK language system is used throughout the education landscape—by content writers, assessment developers, teachers, administrators, and others.

The DOK framework includes four levels of content complexity—DOK 1, DOK 2, DOK 3, and DOK 4. Descriptive definitions for each level are specific to each subject area. Educators can use these definitions to consistently evaluate and communicate about content complexity in educational materials. An understanding of DOK helps educators more effectively target the level of complexity intended in their lessons and assessments. Here are some ways that DOK can inform classroom practice:

  • Consider the standard or learning objective being addressed. What is the DOK expressed in this expectation?
  • Now consider classroom tasks and activities. How can these be designed so that they elicit student thinking at the intended level(s) of complexity—corresponding to the DOK level expressed in the learning expectations?
  • And, of course, assessments: What formative and summative assessment questions will engage students at the same level of DOK as in the standard being assessed? 

With training and ongoing discussion, the use of DOK helps a team focus on a similar understanding of content complexity and apply this understanding consistently when developing and evaluating educational materials.

For more information on WebbAlign, visit www.webbalign.org. WebbAlign is a division of the Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services (WCEPS), a nonprofit organization that works to extend the reach of educational innovations developed at the University of Wisconsin (UW). Dr. Norman Webb is Senior Research Scientist, Emeritus, at UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER).

Be sure to check back next week for part two of this series to hear from Edmentum’s curriculum department about their experience with the WebbAlign DOK training! In the meantime, check out this blog to learn more about the four levels of DOK!