Erik Francis

Scottsdale, AZ

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 1 Year ago
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Help Us, Dr. Webb, with Depth of Knowledge. You're Our Only Hope.

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This is an open call to Dr. Norman Webb, the developer of the Depth of Knowledge Model. K-12 education needs your guidance and wisdom as to what exactly is depth of knowledge. It's not meant to call you out or challenge you. It's actually more of a plea for you to help all us stakeholders in education - the schools, the staff, the students, the parents, the politicians, the professional development providers, the publishing companies - understand what exactly is depth of knowledge.

Since 2010, education has desperately attempted and unfortunately misinterpreted what is depth of knowledge - or, at least, the concept and process of depth of knowledge that you developed. Much of this can be attributed to this document that has been widely distributed throughout education in professional development trainings on implementing college and career-ready standards and teaching and learning for cognitive rigor.

Dr. Webb, you have refuted the DoK Wheel and dissuaded teachers in using it to develop and deliver their instruction and assessment. You shared your perspective and thoughts about the DoK Wheel in a blog by Dr. John Walkup, who reported that you are aware of the DoK Wheel and "explicitly stated that [you] consider the wheel chart misleading and has always discouraged its use". You are also quoted that you feel, "The only possible use of the chart I can see is if someone took a verb and asked how it could be placed in each of the four sectors." You also acknowledge people erroneously credit you for developing and publishing the DoK Wheel.

However, it's understandable why so many of us in education believe this is a credible document designed by you. Just look at the citation at the bottom of this document. There's your name and reference to your "Web Alignment Tool" you designed. It also includes an URL address where they can find this tool you designed. It's not so illogical or unbelievable for us educators to presume you designed or endorsed this graphic and this entire document since your name is cited.

If you go to the link provided in this document, you'll find it is a dead link. I've taken a snapshot of the web page to show you (and anyone who reads this) that the link cited in this document is dead (see above). The true link to this Web Alignment Tool you developed can be accessed by clicking here or going to this URL address ( This is an excellent resource you have developed, and I encourage anyone who wants to develop a deeper understanding of what exactly is depth of knowledge and how it is incorporated in different academic and subject areas to click on this link and get ready to learn.

You will also not find any reference to the DoK Wheel.

So who created the DoK Wheel, Dr. Webb, if it was not you? No one seems to be able to track down its true creator. Dr. John Walkup has discussed the origins in his own blog. Apparently, the DoK Wheel was developed by an elementary school teacher who attempted to create a visual of DoK similar to the pyramid designs of Bloom's Taxonomy. Apparently, one of the state departments of education found the DoK Wheel online and decided to incorporate it into its Race to the Top training.  Other state departments of education followed this department of education's lead and incorporated this visual into their training.  Professional development providers and education specialists also included this document in their presentations, articles, and blogs presuming that this visually accurately depicted your depth of knowledge model.

What has happened in education with the Depth of Knowledge Model you designed is similar to what happened to Bloom's Taxonomy. When Benjamin Bloom (1956, p. 12) first designed the taxonomy, he explicitly stated that the taxonomy should be used for developing educational objectives and not for instructional methods such as questioning. Anderson and Krathwohl (2001, p. 257) also provided the same caution about using the taxonomy as a resource for planning and providing instruction. It was Norris Sanders (1966) who suggested in his book Classroom Questions: What Kinds? that Bloom's Taxonomy should be used to classify questions. Since then, we in education have depended upon Bloom's not only to develop our assessments but also design our instruction, which was not its original intent.

I was first given the DoK Wheel in my state department of education's Common Core State Standards Trainings, and I said, "This is just like Bloom's." Like many of my colleagues, I did not see the difference between your model and Bloom's Taxonomy. That was what the DoK Wheel has perpetuated - this is another way to categorize higher order thinking or "do Bloom's".

However, it wasn't until after I took the time to read Dr. Karin Hess's papers on DoK that I truly understood what exactly was depth of knowledge and what distinguished your model from Bloom's Taxonomy. I also read your papers on the topic - specifically, your Research Monograph Numbers 6 (1997) and 18 (1999) and your paper "Depth-of-Knowledge Levels for Four Content Areas" (2002).

Depth of knowledge is not primarily about cognition. It's more about context - how deeply and extensively students are expected to demonstrate their learning. Dr. Hess's explanation of how the levels of DoK do not scaffold like a taxonomy but rather serve as ceilings that indicate how deep students are expected to demonstrate their learning brought more clarity to what is depth of knowledge.

Unfortunately, Dr. Webb, education looks at your depth of knowledge model as if it is a taxonomy, and they are assessing and evaluating teaching and learning for depth of knowledge like this.

Administrators and instructional coaches are telling their staff, "When I walk in your room, I better see teaching and learning that goes beyond a DOK-1 or DOK-2." However, when the teachers ask what does depth of knowledge look like in classroom instruction and assessment,  administrators and instructional coaches provide vague responses or give them the DoK Wheel and say, "Use this."

It's been six years since we educators were first widely introduced to your concept of depth of knowledge. It's also been six years since the DoK Wheel first appeared in Race to the Top training provided by the state education agencies, county education offices, school districts, individual sites and schools, and professional development providers who have made a valid attempt to teach and train educators on this academic model you designed. We have all been given the false impression that the DoK Wheel represents depth of knowledge.

You should let this be more widely known to the education community that the DoK Wheel does not accurately depict depth of knowledge as you developed and envisioned it, and you should do this as soon as possible. If you don't, we educators will keep misinterpreting what exactly is depth of knowledge - and that will only hurt our students in the long run.

I have developed my own graphic for depth of knowledge that has not only made the rounds on the internet but also been accepted by the education community as a visual that is both understandable and applicable when they are planning their teaching and learning. It's based on both your research and also the work of Dr. Karin Hess, who describes the levels as ceilings that designate how deeply and extensively students are expected to transfer and use what they have learned. I have also extended the use of DoK from a means for assessment to a method to plan and provide instruction. I explain further how DoK and this graphic can be used as a tool for instruction and assessment in my book Now THAT'S a Good Question! How to Promote Cognitive Rigor Through Classroom Questioning published by ASCD.

I will admit that this visual is not DoK in its purest form as you designed it.  It's actually a combination of your work and the work of Dr. Hess. Your model of DoK is performance-based and task-oriented. It emphasizes assessment over instruction - similarly to Bloom's Taxonomy.  Dr. Hess takes a more instructional approach to DoK with her Hess Matrix, but again, it seems more task-oriented and activity-based.  

My visual and approach are a resource or tool for designing and delivering instruction.  It is inquiry-driven and focused on engaging students in a learning experience that prompts them to think deeply about how they can transfer and use the depth and extent of the knowledge they have acquired and developed. The level of DoK from an instructional standpoint depends on the experience the student has and also the experience the teacher intends to provide.  Is the student engaging in knowledge acquisition, knowledge application, knowledge analysis, or knowledge augmentation? 

The DoK Context Ceilings also allows the teacher and student to have a deeper learning experience by increasing the rigor of the expectations for demonstrating and communicating learning.  A DOK-1 math problem that is expected to be solved can become a DOK-2 if the student explains how to use the concept or procedure to solve the problem or even a DOK-3 if they explain how and why the answer is correct or incorrect.  It can also be a DOK-4 if the student is challenged to create a story and word problem from the math equation. 

The DoK Context Ceilings also allows what your model did not intend to do - scaffold depth of knowledge.  A DOK-1 learning experience expects students actively acquire and gather background knowledge and foundational understanding.  A DOK-2 learning experience challenges students use what they have learned to answer questions, address problems, accomplish tasks, and analyze texts and topics.  A DOK-3 learning experience engages students to think strategically by using what they have learned to attain and explain answers, outcomes, results and solutions; consider alternatives, options, and possibilities; or make choices and defend decisions.  A DOK-4 extends students learning experience beyond the teacher, the text, the topic, and even themselves by thinking critically and creatively about what else can be done, what could they do, or how else could they use what they have learned in different academic and real-world contexts.

I'm not asking you to sign off or even refute my graphic and its interpretation of your work.  Again, it's not depth of knowledge as you may have designed it.  Like I said, it's actually an amalgam of your research and Dr. Hess's work.  It's also aligned to my own work with how to promote cognitive rigor - higher order thinking and depth of knowledge - through classroom questioning.  It's also more instructional than evaluative.  It has also been effective in helping educators develop and deliver learning experiences that challenge and engage students in transferring, using, and expressing the depth and extent of their knowledge and thinking in different contexts - which, from what I have read, is what your model intended to do. 

However, you need to let this be more widely known to the education community that the DoK Wheel does not accurately depict depth of knowledge as you developed and envisioned it, and you should do this as soon as possible. If you don't, we educators will keep misinterpreting what exactly is depth of knowledge - and that will only hurt our students in the long run.

So help us with Depth of Knowledge, Dr. Webb.  You're our only hope.
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