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Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Framework: The Basics

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Framework: The Basics

Rigor is a complex concept that includes the interactions between content, instruction, learning activities, and learners. Research has shown that an appropriate level of rigor is needed for academic growth and positive outcomes, especially when developing 21st century thinking skills. A common misconception is that rigor simply indicates how difficult a class is and how much work students are given, but this is incorrect and can be harmful to students.

A better definition of rigor is the level of challenge offered by learning that keeps students engaged, promotes growth, and considers the learners at hand. All tasks have some level of rigor along a continuum from simple to complex. Tasks that are too simple disengage students, and those that are too hard frustrate them. Having a framework to gauge whether learning is at the right level of rigor both supports students and ensures the depth of learning needed to apply new knowledge and skills in future contexts.

Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework is a highly regarded model that is useful when considering the continuum of rigor. Webb’s framework describes levels of required student thinking in various tasks. Note that the goal is not to maintain thinking at the highest level but to use the framework to keep students engaged and on a growth path at all stages of their learning. Let’s look at the levels of DOK below and explore how they may engage learners.

Level 1: Recall

This level is the basic recall of information, such as a fact, definition, term, or a procedure. Typically, this is as simple as remembering a formula or following a recipe.

Level 1 is useful for introducing information to students or checking for understanding about foundational information needed for higher-order thinking. Building automaticity at level 1 frees up cognitive space for complex thinking. Asking level 1 questions or providing level 1 activities can also help teachers understand the prior knowledge and experiences of their students.

Level 2: Skills and Concepts

The second level requires a student to make informed decisions about problem-solving and procedures, manipulating level 1 thinking in new contexts. In this level, students may be asked to complete multiple steps in order to find a solution, like collecting and then displaying data in a chart.

The key to level 2 is that students are using their knowledge outside of the original context. Teachers can provide level 2 opportunities as low-stakes ways for students to practice and begin to think of information outside of the context in which it was originally presented. Having students work together is a great way to provide support and deepen understanding in level 2 tasks.

Level 3: Strategic Thinking

This level requires reasoning, planning, using evidence, and a higher level of thinking. Asking students to explain their thinking is a part of this level. This level is more complex and abstract than the previous two.

Level 3 asks students to use skills and knowledge in new combinations outside of the original context. When students are able to execute level 3 thinking, they may have mastered the concepts. All learners can engage in level 3 activities, although some may need more support than others.

Level 4: Extended Thinking

The last level of the of the four is the most complex. This level requires complex reasoning, planning, developing, and thinking, most likely over a period of time. A student both designing and conducting an experiment is a demonstration of this level.

Level 4 is when students are creating their own thinking. Level 4 activities ask students to consider their knowledge and skills and generate something that is their very own. This could be accomplished through projects or even short activities, such as writing on quick tasls or developing conjectures with a peer. Level 4 thinking is an essential 21st century skill, so all students must be exposed to this level of thinking and supported as needed.

When the right level of rigor is applied, students are engaged with their learning and will think in ways that can help them be successful in the future. All levels of rigor are needed throughout the learning process. Interested in learning how Edmentum incorporates Webb’s DOK framework into our programs? Check out our technology-enhanced 21st century item types that allow for student thinking at the appropriate Depth of Knowledge!

This blog was originally published August 2018 by Brita Hammer and has been updated.

Matt.Strader@edmentum.com's picture
Matt Strader

Matt Strader has over 10 years’ experience in education as a teacher and administrator in New York City. A Teach for America alumnus, Matt spent his career in urban schools and is passionate about equity and inclusion for all students. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University in curriculum and instruction and Senior Manager of Content Design at Edmentum. He believes that making research-based practices practical for the classroom will change lives!