Tag: pedagogy

depth of knowledge

How to Blend DoK into Lesson Plans without a Comprehensive Rewrite

depth of knowledgeI recently got a question from a reader asking how the lessons in my K-8 curriculum supported Dr. Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge philosophy — an integral concept to her school’s mission. It got me thinking about lesson plans in general — how far we’ve come from lecture-test-move on. Now, exemplary teachers focus on blending learning into the student’s life knowledge base with the goal of building happy, productive adults. There are several concepts that address this reform in teaching (such as Art Costa’s Habits of Mind, Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Hess Cognitive Rigor Matrix, or the tech-oriented SAMR Model). Depth of Knowledge (DoK) is arguably the most thorough with its four concise levels, each supported by a collection of words that contribute to delivering content at that level. Like the SAMR Model, involvement grows with each level from a basic recall of knowledge to the ability to use that information in new circumstances.

Here are general details about Webb’s DoK:

  • With Webb’s DoK chart, not only can you figure out how to teach a subject more deeply and expect students to demonstrate complex understanding, but teachers can evaluate where students are in the four-step process starting at the rote application of knowledge to its synthesization from various sources that is then transferred to other uses.
  • Level One: Identify details in the text, specific facts that result in a ‘right’ answer. Tasks that require Level One thinking include words like memorize, state, and recognize.
  • Level Two: Show a relationship between an idea in the text and other events. ‘How’ and ‘why’ are good questions to bump an activity into Level Two. Tasks that require Level Two thinking include words like compare, infer, and interpret.
  • Level Three: Analyze and draw conclusions about the text. Support conclusions with details. Use a voice that is appropriate to the purpose, task, and audience. Tasks that require Level Three thinking include words like hypothesize, differentiate, and investigate.
  • Level Four: Extend conclusions and analysis (which might be the result of Level three) to new situations. Use other sources to analyze and draw conclusions. Tasks that require Level Four thinking include words like connect, analyze, and prove.
  • As Dr. Karin Hess says, DoK is not about difficulty, it’s about complexity. Level  One may be difficult for some students, but it isn’t complex. They may memorize a calculus formula (which I’ll stipulate is beyond difficult), but it doesn’t represent rigorous thinking. That happens in Level Four’s application to the real world.
  • For DoK’s Level One and Two, there are usually right answers. That’s not true in Levels Three and Four.There, it’s about higher-order thinking.
  • DoK is not a taxonomy (like Bloom’s). Rather, it itemizes ways students interact with knowledge.
  • To work at a Level Three or Four requires foundation. Show students how to accomplish Level One and Two goals first.

With that in mind, here are seven steps to transform your current lesson plan into one aligned with DoK guidelines:



Use the SAMR Model to Spearhead Technology in Your Classroom

samr stepsThis is a question I get often from teachers: Technology is always an extra layer of work in my classroom. How can I blend it into what I already do without taking time I don’t have? When I first addressed this issue fifteen years ago, it was all about replacing traditional classroom tools with one on a computer. For example, book reports were typed on the computer instead of handwritten, or math facts were practiced with a math game instead of flash cards. But that quickly became cumbersome. Teachers didn’t know how to use the digital tools and there was never enough training to untip that balance. At the end of the day, paper-and-pencil was easier, faster, and perfectly understood. Soon, even the most stalwart tech-infused teachers discovered it was just as effective to use traditional tools and pull out the tech stuff for special occasions.

What happened? How did such a good idea go so wrong? The problem was four-fold:

  • students didn’t have the technology foundation to smoothly incorporate digital tools into projects. Too often, the effort to provide evidence of learning suffered as students (and teachers) became mired in efforts to get the technology to work. Where is the tool? How do you do **? Why is the program not working?
  • teachers didn’t have training in the tools. Even schools that made herculean efforts to train teachers in technology found themselves flailing. Even teachers who understood the tool would struggle with the inadequate infrastructure, the undependability of the technology itself, and the non-intuitive nature of so many of the programs they wanted to use. As a result, they used tools they understood rather than those best-suited for the project and learning.
  • projects always–really, always–took longer using technology than the traditional low-tech approach.
  • school infrastructure often struggled to support the exciting plans that tech-savvy teachers wanted to try. Computers froze or the network became over-burdened or the internet went down just as students required them the most. The money required to fix these problems was measured in the thousands of dollars–tens of thousands. Too many schools just didn’t have that budget.


tech in ed

How to Create a Tech-based Curriculum Using the SAMR Model

tech in edThis is a question I get often from teachers: How do I teach my state/national/international curriculum using technology? When I first addressed this issue about fifteen years ago, there weren’t any tools to make this happen. In fact, I ended up writing my own project-based technology curriculum (now in its fifth edition). I wanted a curriculum that scaffolded learning year-to-year, blended into the school academic program, could be re-formed to apply to any academic topic, differentiated for varied student learning style, and was age-appropriate for the needs of the digital natives populating my classroom. Everything I found through traditional sources was skills-based, undifferentiated, and relied on programs that have always been around rather than the ones that incited student passion.

The most difficult part was convincing colleagues that 2nd graders couldn’t write a book report in MS Word until they understood toolbars, keyboarding basics, enough digital citizenship to research effectively online, and how to solve the never-ending-but-repetitive tech problems they surely would face during their work.

Overall, it took a year to curate teacher needs, evaluate what skills were required to accomplish them, and then blend them into a tech program that optimized learning for the particular age group.

Before I disclose my secret formula, let’s assess where you are–right now–in your technology integration efforts. Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed the popular SAMR model as a way for teachers to evaluate how they are incorporating technology into their instructional practice. Here’s how it works:


Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with no functional change.

This is a great starting point. Look at what you’re doing in your lesson plans and consider what tech tools could replace what you currently use. For example, if you make posters to discuss great inventors, could you use an online tech tool like Glogster or Canva?


Tech acts as a direct tool substitute with functional improvement.



A Conversation about Keyboarding, Methods, Pedagogy, and More


Dr. Bill Morgan and I have engaged in several months of spirited conversation about keyboarding, pre-keyboarding, and how it can best serve students. Bill is the brilliant creator of the PreKeys Pond and giant keyboards for classrooms. His experience teaching keyboarding often informs me in my art as I adapt to the ever-changing needs of the students in my classes. I’ve hosted Bill before on Ask a Tech Teacher (see this article on Preparing Young Students for Home Row Keyboarding: An Unplugged Approach). Today, I’m going to share random thoughts from a collection of our emails. Bill’s thoughts are in italics and mine in red and parentheses:


I have questions for the creators of Ratatype.com. They seem to be British since they use the term centimeters to refer to how close the keyboard and screen ought to be to the student. Of course, most of the world outside of the USA refers to centimeters instead of inches! I also want to thank Ratatype for clocking me at 97 wpm on the pretest. (🙂

The keyboard scheme shows the left pinky finger on both 1 and 2 keys. Have you noticed? (Bill doesn’t miss a thing. He keeps me on my toes.)
The third bullet point suggests that, at some point, students have developed visual memory of the locations of number and letter keys on the keyboard. It reads: 

When typing, imagine the location of the symbol on the keyboard.

(I like that too. I need to incorporate more visual learning into my keyboard instruction).


digital literacy

Digital Literacy–What is it?

‘Digital literacy’ is one of those buzz words floated by experts as being granular to 21st century students. It’s everywhere, on everyone’s tongue, but figuring out what it means can be daunting. ‘Literacy’ is simple: the ability to read and write–so ‘digital literacy’ should be achieving those goals digitally.

Not that simple. Here are a few of the definitions I found:

the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.“.

–Cornell University

“the ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information”

–Digital Strategy Glossary of Key Terms

“the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers:

–Paul Gilster, Digital Literacy

“a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments

–Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan: Connecting the Digital Dots

Philosophically, these are all good definitions, but after fifteen years teaching K-8 technology and grad school, I know ‘digital literacy’ is much more complicated than a couple of sentences, especially when we’re talking about students baptized in iPads and smartphones. Here are the eight transformative skills required of the digitally-literate student:

digital toolsBasic tools

Digital literacy implies the same reading-writing skills, but without paper, pencils, books, or lectures. It’s purpose-built and student-driven. As a teacher, you’ll want to provide the following:

  • digital devices–such as laptops, iPads, Chromebooks, or desktops, for daily use
  • a digital class calendar–with due dates, activities, and other events
  • an annotation tool (like Acrobat, Notability, or iAnnotate), to take notes
  • a class internet start page–to curate websites, widgets, and other digital tools used for learning
  • a backchannel device–to assess student learning while it’s happening (with tools such as Socrative, Today’s Meet, or Google Apps)
  • a class website or blog–to share class activities with parents and other stakeholders
  • student digital portfolios–to curate and collect student work for viewing and sharing
  • student email–or some method of communicating quickly with students outside class time. This can be messaging, Twitter, or a dedicated forum
  • vocabulary tool–so students can quickly decode words they don’t understand in their reading. Make this dictionary tool easily accessible from any digital device being used.



Let’s Talk About Habits of Mind

habits of mindPedagogic experts have spent an enormous amount of time attempting to unravel the definition of ‘educated’. It used to be the 3 R’s–reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The problem with that metric is that, in the fullness of time, those who excelled in the three areas weren’t necessarily the ones who succeeded. As long ago as the early 1900’s, Teddy Roosevelt warned:

“C students rule the world.”

It’s the kids without their nose in a book that notice the world around them, make connections, and learn natively. They excel at activities that aren’t the result of a GPA and an Ivy League college. Their motivation is often failure, and taking the wrong path again and again. As Thomas Edison said:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein are poster children for that approach. Both became change agents in their fields despite following a non-traditional path.


What is the Flipped Classroom

When I was editing the 8th grade tech curriculum, I got wowed by ‘infographics’–a visual approach to communicating information. Yes, I have known for a long time about ‘infographics’, but haven’t really paused to considered their strength. This dove-tailed nicely when I started getting questions from readers like, “What is a ‘flipped classroom’?”

Here–take a look at this one from Cool Infographics (and click the link–they have some great visual stuff over there):