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Monday, January 6, 2014

View From the 5th Grade Trenches: Common Core Standards #4 - Depth of Knowledge

Time to twist the Common Core State Standards binoculars to focus on Academic Conversations. 

The goal is to guide students to discuss learning beyond mere statement of fact, identification, or detail. Take new knowledge out for a spin. Savor learning. Poke it. Prod it. Turn it over. Examine it for faults. Challenge it. Connect it to previous knowledge bobbing just beneath the surface of their gray matter. Prove it with evidence. Seek clarification. Synthesize.

Academic Conversations occur teacher to student, and more importantly student to student. They travel though layers of intensity known as DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE (DOK) levels.

Four levels of Depth of Knowledge have settled into place. They are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchy of knowledge retention.

Using the concept of the water cycle, here’s an oversimplified example of student knowledge traveling through the DOK levels.

DOK Level 1: Identification
What are the stages of the water cycle?
Evaporation – Condensation – Precipitation – Run Off

DOK Level 2: Exploration/Explanation
Discuss the cause and effect relationships in the water cycle.
The addition or removal of heat will cause the water to shift into different physical states. For example: Sunlight heats water droplets causing them to change from liquid to gas.

DOK Level 3: Shift in Perspective
If you look closer at the water cycle, what else do you see?
The speed in which molecules move and their density changes based on the physical state of the water. Higher temperatures cause water molecules to move faster.

DOK Level 4: Application of Knowledge
How can you connect your knowledge of the water cycle to other concepts?
All elements have freezing and boiling points. The water cycle exists in storms. - And of course they would explain in detail - create a project/presentation to illustrate their knowledge.

Students must be explicitly taught how to “think” through these levels. My socks have been knocked off by my fifth graders as I see them engaging in these sorts of academic conversations WITHOUT my intervention.

My students have prompt sheets to guide them through the DOK levels. Depending on the concept I will set the expectation of which DOK levels their conversation is required to cover.

The following links are from the Stanislaus County Department of Education. The first is an OVERVIEW of DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE as applied to different curricular areas. The second are DOK QUESTION STEMS for academic conversations.

Here are some middle school students taking you though one application of depth of knowledge. I promise it's short.

Next week: Common Core Performance Tasks 


  1. I wish people used these four steps while dating. I bet if they did, the divorce rate would drop. :)

    Great info, Leslie!

  2. lol, Emily's response totally cracked me up :) Great explanation of this point of curriculum. It's so important for students! I do apologize for not getting over here more lately--the holidays have been crazy and it's still taking it's sweet time slowing down a bit here.

  3. Hey, I feel like I just got a mini science lesson! I love it when kids are urged to learn in different ways, since not every child learns the same way. Know what I mean? One of my sons can read something and get it right away. Another has to have hands-on in order to really learn it. Even with my mommy lessons at home, I teach in different ways. But time is short in the classroom and teachers probably have to do what works best for most.

  4. My 5th grader is starting the human body. Which he just covered in his gifted and talented program. He's bummed to be repeating the subject. What would you do to push such a student?


  5. Nice lesson. I've worked in the fifth grade for many years, so I know the water cycle well.

  6. My son is doing similar work in 3rd grade. Not quite as complex, but I can see where it's going. It's great schools are recognizing the capacity for learning in these younger ages. Sky's the limit!!

  7. Those kids are awesome! I love how our knowledge as educators keeps expanding and how it helps us get the best from our kids. Deep thinking is SO important - and going to be more important as technology keeps expanding!

  8. You are definitely on to something, Emily! :)
    Meradeth - No apology necessary. I've been AWFUL at blogging this holiday.
    Julie - As teachers our job is to figure out what makes each student tick.
    Vicki - I posted some ideas on your blog about this.
    Theresa - Have you ever heard "Water Cycle Boogie" by Banana Slug String Band? It's fabulous.
    Pk - Agree. Here-here for dignifying our kids' abilities.
    Jemi - You said it, Sister!

  9. Leslie- Is grading any different now that you are using this way of teaching?
    I mean how do you grade- still tests or homework, it sounds like there is a lot more involved than just paper type grades. How do you assess your students?


  10. Loved the video! I plan to share it with my colleagues. We are working depth of knowledge, too! The students are really rising to the occasion. I like the idea of having sheets for them to refer to in order to help them engage in this kind of learning. Great job!

  11. It's so interesting to see what's being planned in the curriculum. I'd have to go back to school myself if I were considering returning to teaching. :-)

  12. Thank you for sharing the video. I'm bookmarking it.

  13. That's a neat way of looking at learning steps - so different from when I was in grade school!

  14. This may not be exactly what you mean by DOX Level 4, but my kids knock my socks off when they take something they've learned and jump across to an entirely different subject and apply it. Like when 4th grader applied some food web/energy cycle principles to politics!!??!!!