Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge in Instructional Rounds


November 14, 2013 by sz

Fountain Valley High School is using Webb’s DOK as a practical focus area this year.
Photo ©2005 Flickr user Derek Keats under CC-BY 2.0

For the first couple years of Instructional Rounds our staff used the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) as our practical focus.

The standard we would return to time and time again is that of Engaging and Supporting All Students in Learning, because as teachers we know, if students are engaged the hard work of teaching is done. An engaged classroom is a thrill to be in, for both teachers and students. Rightfully so, teachers are always interested in how to engage their students.

As other schools in our district have embarked on Instructional Rounds, they too have used this standard as one of their first practical focus areas. Other standards that have lead to effective Rounds are Assessing Students for Learning and Creating & Maintaining Effective Environments for Student Learning.

Photo ©2013 Flickr user Au Kirk under CC-BY 2.0

A Change of Focus
This year we wanted to push our practical focus a little further; we felt as if we had exhausted the CSTPs. (Of course we hadn’t; how could we? But we wanted to throw in something new and stir the pot a bit.)

So we decided to use Norman L. Webb’s “Depth-of-Knowledge (DOK) Levels” to focus on the tasks we give students and to observe the strategies we use in the different levels. We also wanted to observe strategies we use to extend students’ learning, and thinking, into the deeper levels of DOK.

A Brief Introduction to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge
In a nutshell, Webb’s DOK analyzes the cognitive expectation demanded by standards, curricular activities and assessment tasks (Webb as cited by Mississippi Dept. of Ed.)

Webb’s DOK levels are similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy that many teachers are already familiar with. This graphic by Debbie Perkins offers a simple comparison and contrast between Bloom and Webb. Another important difference between the two is the DOK levels are determined not by the task’s verb, rather the task that follows the verb. Webb’s Depth of knowledge “is about the complexity of mental processing that must occur to complete a task” (James LeBaron).

bloom vs webb
Graphic ©2008 Debbie Perkins used with permission

Use of DOK in Instructional Rounds
We found that such a focus adds a flexibility to our observations. For example, in years prior if we had set our focus to be Assessing Students for Learning we would want to see a teacher use formative assessments and how they might adjust their instruction if necessary. Since our observations only last somewhere between 10 – 15 minutes we might not see a teacher assessing her students. When we didn’t see our focus we would look for other strategies and discuss those during our debriefs.

Now with a broader focus on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge our observations look something like this:

  • A few of us walk into a classroom with our notes and Webb’s DOK levels.
  • We identify at which level the students are working.
  • We identify the task the students have been asked to perform.
  • We identify the instructional strategies the teacher is using to support the assigned task.
  • We watch for transitional moments between the DOK levels, if applicable.

It’s important to make a note about our expectations. We expect to observe teachers using ALL levels of the DOK. We do not expect teachers will always, or even mostly, be at Level Four, Extended Thinking. We do expect ourselves to be continually cycling through the DOK levels, supporting and scaffolding students to extend their thinking in a rigorous learning environment.

Marzano offers other questions to inform our observations and debriefs as we use the DOK as a practical focus. He breaks down the classroom into three lesson segments and suggests specific observational questions to accompany each segment. Our DOK focus falls under Lesson Segments That Address Content, and its questions include:

  • What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
  • What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
  • What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?

If you’re interested in using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge in your lesson planning, see Karin Hess’s work on the subject.

Keep the conversation on Instructional Rounds going: use the hashtag #EdRounds on Twitter.


3 thoughts on “Using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge in Instructional Rounds

  1. John Walkup says:

    Thanks for the discussion. We are now incorporating DOK into Instructional Rounds and found your blog very interesting.

    The DOK wheel chart you linked in your article that is provided by the state of Missouri is, however, an inaccurate representation of DOK. Norman Webb agrees. See

    I would also recommend viewing our work with Karin Hess on the subject of cognitive rigor, which is a superposition of Depth of Knowledge and Bloom’s Taxonomy:

    Thanks again for the read!

  2. […] line today was a really good day. Thanks to twitter,  edcampLA, and @MrZiebarth’s great resources for instructional rounds. Thanks to my terrific colleagues and great […]

  3. […] us we want to focus on extending thinking in Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (see the graphic).  If you are an administrator, you may enjoy this blog, which focuses on how to know if you are seeing it.  It is focused on instructional rounds and I […]

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