Depth of Knowledge and Tasks

Research shows that academic tasks given to students often lack cognitive rigor with literacy tasks at the DOK 1 and 2 levels and almost all math tasks at the DOK 1 level (Hess, 2009). Hess argues that there should be “differentiated emphasis on each of the four depth-of-knowledge levels … with the [DOK matrix serving] as a constant reminder … that students need exposure to novel and complex activities every day.”

The ultimate goal of instruction is that students can think deeply and manipulate content to accomplish relevant and motivating tasks and they must be able to engage in tasks at the DOK 4 level to do this. We have learned from John Hattie that in project based learning we need to prepare students well with DOK 1 and 2 level learning so they have the content and skills knowledge to complete DOK 3 and 4 tasks independently.

We have also learned from Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey that our questioning about texts needs to move from surface level to deep learning and we can do this by designing questions that move up through the DOK levels. In Math we have been using the DOK rubrics to help students level up with skills and strategies so they can perform at the DOK 3 and 4 level.

In my schools, grade level teams have caused significant growth in math as a result of tasks they are doing at the DOK 4 level. Essentially, they have been deliberately designing tasks at all level of DOK 4 simultaneously by teaching DOK 1, 2 and 3 and also having daily DOK 4 tasks: 

1. Math walks for 15 minutes a day where students notice and wonder are questioned to go deeper about the math inherent in the building.

2. Groups of students develop story problems which are posed to the class for problem solving and, more importantly, for scoring on a 4 point rubric.

3. Posing equations and asking students to evaluate if it is reasonable (e.g. 1/2 = 6/3).

These tasks build relevance in math which I believe is one of the biggest barriers for our students. They learn the skills and strategies but do not view mathematics as a language to describe your world. The table below highlights the type of thinking at the different levels.

The more deliberate we are in planning for these levels in our task design the more successful our students will be. We don’t need to spend a lot of time planning elaborate tasks that require teacher driven explanations. Simple tasks that push students to think and manipulate content is key. When you push tasks to DOK 4 and push student independent thinking your IMPACT is impressive.

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