Tuesday, April 15, 2014

21st Century Literacy, Communication, and Blogging

What does it mean to be literate? Traditionally, being literate meant the ability to read and write, a trademark of being educated. In essence, it meant the ability to communicate face-to-face and in writing.

The Internet has changed what it means to be literate because communication; writing; and how we retrieve, share, critically evaluate, and synthesize information includes digital fluency, which requires a new set of skills.
Originally adapted from: opensourceway via Compfight cc

The development of this new skills set affects online reading comprehension and literacy (Coiro, 2007; Leu et al., 2005; Leu, Zawilinski, et al., 2007). Those who harness the power of the Internet have increased reading comprehension online relative to those who lack online reading skills regarding locating, critically evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information (Coiro, 2011).

Therefore, we need to change how we teach literacy. Literacy must include sophisticated Internet searching techniques; evaluating the validity and reliability of the content; minding copyrights and giving proper attribution; communicating and collaborating with global audiences; and creating multimedia products.

Communication and conversation

Conversation builds language and literacy skills, requiring strong communication skills. Those skills include paraphrasing, asking clarifying questions, elaborating on main ideas, supporting ideas with examples, adding more information or challenging an idea, and synthesizing main points (Academic Conversations).

Communication skills can be used in online environments such as commenting on blogs. In the video below, Mrs. Yollis' third grade students share tips for writing quality comments:

These tips utilize strong communication skills to create quality written comments as a way to spark conversation and develop 21st century literacy.

Building literacy through blogging

Engaging in classroom blogging doesn't guarantee increased literacy; however, when students partake in ongoing academic conversations with diverse audiences for various purposes, then students reap the benefits of blogging.

Furthermore, it helps address some of the learning standards.

Blogging global collaborations

To take blogging beyond the four walls of the classroom and expand your audience and blogging experiences, try the Student Blogging Challenge or Quadblogging.

The Student Blogging Challenge is a free global collaboration that occurs in fall and spring for approximately ten weeks. Classrooms or individual students can sign up for the Challenge, and can choose which challenges to participate in. Miss W, the organizer of the Challenge, publishes a choice board of challenges or prompts around a topic each week suitable for all student ages and ranges of experience.

Quadblogging is when four classrooms agree to take turns having their blog as the spotlight class of the week, and the other three classrooms visit and leave comments. By the end of the month (or agreed amount of time), all four blogs have had their debut in the spotlight.

Writing across content isn't a new idea, but writing daily, collaborating and connecting with various audiences might be new for many. Giving your students an audience is motivating, it addresses several learning standards, and is well worth the effort.


The key ideas of this post were presented to our Principals, Education Services, and Superintendent earlier this month. 

Final thoughts

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (Langwitches) wrote a fabulous post exploring making thinking visible through blogging. Below is one of her graphics from that post:
Visible Thinking Routines by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano & Claire Arcenas. CC License: BY NC SA

Focusing on adding value to the author's writing requires critical thinking and great communication skills. It requires supporting claims with evidence and 21st century literacy -- which includes reading; retrieving information; critically evaluating the information; synthesizing ideas from multiple sources; minding copyrights and giving proper attribution; and sharing the information through writing, discussion, and/or multimedia.

The bottom line is 21st century literacy requires a new set of skills and it's about time we start embracing and teaching those skills.
  • How do you help your students and other educators adopt and embrace 21st century literacy?
  • How does blogging (or any collaborative tool) help build 21st century literacy? (and when does it not?)
  • What other thoughts do you want to add to this discussion?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Craft and Structure, Deeper Thinking, and Tech Integration

What type of thinking does the Common Core ask of students when it comes to Craft and Structure? Analysis.

Analyzing the author's craft and structure is a shift for students to do, and a shift for teachers to design tasks and questions that require analysis.  This is the critical thinking we want students to engage in.


The big shift in this is the analysis. What does that look like at the elementary level?

How do you teach Craft and Structure?

There are many ways to teach craft and structure. Make sure students are analyzing the text, not just identifying the answers.

Click here to view on Google Drive

Every spring, our school district uses Title IIa funds to pay teachers to attend training. This year, our Spring Academy focuses on various aspects of Common Core... and teaching Craft and Structure is one of the sessions. I was charged with creating a training module for the K-6 sessions.

Training Document: Click here to view document.

DOK 3 Tasks and Activities for Craft and Structure

There's a plethora of activities that can be done with craft and structure, but here's just a few easy ideas:
  • Share evidence of craft and structure: While students are reading text, they can record evidence of word choice (including unknown words, determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings -- to analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone); text features (and the impact it makes on the text); author's purpose or point of view. Use Today's Meet for a backchannel discussion, or Padlet to record evidence on sticky notes.

Final thoughts

It's exciting for me to think about an author's labor of love to select the perfect words and phrases to communicate the message. It's even more rewarding to think of students appreciating that labor of love, to the point of their applying it in their own written or digital stories.
  • If students should analyze craft and structure, then what types of questions and tasks do they need to engage in?
  • How do you engage students in craft and structure?
  • How else did this post connect with you?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

21st Century Learning, Literacy 2.0 and Common Core

One of the things that I love about AJUSD is how technology integration and 21st century learning is part of every layer of our district, from the students, to the teachers, to the site administrators, to the District Office, through a supportive School Board.

Furthermore, one of the pieces that make us successful is the ongoing professional learning with the Superintendent, Principals, and the Education Services Team. Technology integration, PBL, and 21st Century Learning is not an afterthought, but rather it's planned into our conversations. Dr. Wilson makes sure we have discussions about how all the pieces and initiatives connect.

Connecting PBL, the Common Core, and Teacher Evaluation Tool

Below is a presentation from one of the Leadership Meetings earlier in the year. In a nutshell, here's what that training looked like:
  • Think through a series of questions about what 21st century learning skills look like in the context of PBL, and as described in the Common Core.
  • After the series of questions, they deduced that the skills needed to be successful in the Common Core are the same skills needed in PBL.
  • Create a picture of what a thriving Common Core classroom and PBL classroom looked like. Focus on the engagement piece of the Teacher Evaluation Tool.
  • Dive into a classroom example from Shauna Hamman's third grade classroom. This example, described in more detail below, is a living and breathing example of a classroom rich in PBL and thriving in the Common Core.
  • Tie those pieces back together.

Turning inquiry into PBL

Through Shauna's PLN, she heard of a webcast with scientists at the South Pole, so she dropped everything to give her class an opportunity to partake in. They were the only class, while the rest of the audience consisted of scientists. At one point a scientist held up a photo of a penguin and stated that obviously it wasn't taken at the South Pole, and the audience chuckled.

After the video conference, her students asked her, "How come the penguin wasn't at the South Pole? And why were they laughing about it?"

She simply could have answered their question by telling them that penguins need the water, and the South Pole is landlocked. However, knowing her students had posed a genuine question, she monopolized on their inquiry and had them excited to research. During this research process, some students stumbled upon other sites and blogs, and ended up doing another collaborative project.

Students wrote about it on the class blog... which made new connections with others around the world.

Slides from the September training

Click here to view the slides.

Our March training -- Literacy 2.0

It's important to connect the ideas one layer at a time, building on the prior discussions. In this next layer, I'm sharing some of the big ideas I heard from Nancy Frey in a training about Literacy 2.0, brought to Arizona by the K12 Center and the ADE.

Overview of the training:
  • The focus is information literacy and curration.
  • Do a mini lesson on an Internet search.
  • Dig into Common Core for evidence of information literacy being built into the standards.
  • Introduce them to a Socratic Seminar format -- to discuss the evidence they found about information literacy built into the Common Core.
  • The tools will change over time, but the function will remain -- so teach the function.
  • Tie the big points back together.

Click here to view the slides.

Final thoughts

We need to equip our students for year 13, and information literacy, is part of that equipping -- it's a necessity in today's classrooms.
  • How do you equip your students for year 13 and build information fluency?
  • If you were an administrator involved in this type of professional learning, what big ideas do you see? What do you think the impact is?
  • How else does this post connect with you?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Analogies, Visual Representations and Metaphors for DOK

Our teams are focusing on creating rigorous learning activities by applying Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Level 3 and 4 tasks. "Webb developed four DOK levels that grow in cognitive complexity and provide educators a lens on creating more cognitively engaging and challenging tasks," (New York City's Department of Education). By focusing on DOK 3 and 4 levels, they are providing opportunities for students to engage in rigorous thinking as they connect with the content.

This post will focus on analogies, visual representations, and metaphors as avenues for creating engaging DOK tasks.


Analogy prompts are great ways to check for understanding (Wiggins & McTighe in UbD), and they are DOK 3 tasks.

This can be done with any content area. Here are a few examples: 
  • Finding the line of symmetry is like finding a matching shoe because both sides are now the same size and same shape.
  • Spelling correctly is like washing your hands after using the facilities because your mom always reminds you to go back and wash and the computer always puts that red squiggly line under those misspelled words. You'd be better off just doing it the first time.
The analogy connects learning to what students know, and it provides the teacher a picture of those connections, which can be used as checking for understanding and formative assessment. 
Visual Representations

Creating a visual representation shows the complexity of students' thinking (e.g., a flow chart, a concept map, or a visual metaphor) .

Have you ever thought about having students create a concept map from the Learning students wrote down on their KWL chart?  To do so, they need to synthesize ideas, look for themes and connections, then visually organize those ideas into categories.

The image below shows a concept map created from a KWL during 1:1 Professional Development. Each group created their own concept map, and the beauty of it was: 1) it made the groups think about the big ideas we've discussed during PD; and 2) it was a formative assessment for me to see where each group was, so I knew if they were ready for the next step.
Artifact from 1:1 training with AJHS, Feb of 2012.


Creating strong metaphors requires an understanding of the denotation and connotation of words, and how they conjure up emotions as they create visual connections (Common Core Craft and Structure Standard #4).

Have you ever thought about having students create metaphors with their vocabulary or spelling words? They'd have to clearly understand the meanings of the words, and how to craft them into connections to convey specific emotions or ideas.

Or, have you thought about having students create a video of metaphors (Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard #2)? Here's a lesson for that. Below is a product that my 2009 5th grade students created based on that idea. Confession: I wasn't aware of Creative Commons at the time.

Visual Metaphors

Visual metaphors is that very process of taking complicated ideas and finding ways to visually represent those ideas (Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard #2).

Here are some technology tools for creating visual metaphors:

Final thoughts

While some of these tasks take some time investment (e.g., creating visual metaphors), it doesn't have to. Simply asking student to draw a picture or a visual representation of their learning challenges them to synthesize ideas. Ask them to make an analogy, which is also a low prep task with high cognitive results. Then share their thoughts with a partner or a small group.
  • What are some other low prep, high results (DOK 3) tasks students can engage in?
  • How do you/would you use analogies, visual representations and metaphors in your classroom or professional development?
  • How else does this post connect with you?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Digital Storytelling and Stories with the iPad

Digital storytelling is an art form conveying a message. It uses images and voice narration to convey emotion with the message, and to ignite empathy from the audience. It incorporates storyboarding and writing a script. It is created with digital tools and published on the Internet.

I often think of digital storytelling as something done in first person because it creates that personal connection. Whereas, I think of a digital story as an anecdote or story typed or narrated in third person.

Image attribution: Lyn Hilt's Slideshare, used with permission.
Original work: "Writing- Pen & Paper" CC-by Laurie Richie


Here are some of the many benefits of digital storytelling and digital stories:

    Get Adobe Flash player

  • The 21st century skills and ISTE's NETS applied are critical and creative thinking; written, oral, and digital communication; collaboration; authentic learning; digital fluency; informational fluency; and project management.
  • It is great differentiation for all students including ELL, gifted, and special needs.
  • It increases student engagement in a meaningful and relevant task.
  • It can be used as an authentic assessment.

Common Core Standards

Many specific content standards can be addressed through digital stories. Here are some of the Common Core Standards that digital storytelling and digital stories address:
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences. 
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Types of digital stories and some prompts

Digital storytelling and stories can take shape as a:
  • Short Story: This narrative shares an insight, a perspective, or an entertaining story.
  • Myth, Legend, Tall Tale, Folk Tale, or Fable: While each of these are a little different from one another, they tend to describe origins, values, beliefs, accomplishments, or special events. 
  • DocuDrama or Historical Storytelling: This digital story is told from the point of view of a person (or object) in a different era. It requires researching a time period, then using creativity to have those facts come to life.
  • Describe and Conclude or Reflective Storytelling: Tell about something you're learning and the impact it has on you.
  • Public Service Announcement, Advertisement, or Persuasive Story: This digital story has the purpose of calling others to action for or against something else.
These prompts were inspired by Bernajean Porter's Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum

The art of digital storytelling

Last year, I participated in an outstanding webinar by ISTE's Special Interest Group for Digital Storytelling, where Bernajean Porter shared about the "Art and Soul of Digital Storytelling." After being inspired by the webinar, I created the following page summarizing some of my key take-aways:
Click here to download PDF

Below is an example of digital storytelling by Siobahn Quigg.

Step 1: Writing the script and planning the project
Click to download
  • Prompt: I'd choose one prompt to introduce the process of digital storytelling to students. I might even do the first one as a whole group with parts and roles shared by the students. (Here's the first try from a second grade class and a Kindergarten student). As our class becomes confident with the process and media, I'd open it up to more choices and smaller groups/individual productions.
  • Teaching about the writing: Teach the importance of first person for adding spice to the story; share an interesting problem, perspective, or insight; and use strong word choice to convey the message.

Step 2: Production, apps, and digital tools
  • Choose the app: When I am introducing the digital storytelling process to classes, I choose the app for them to use. Once the process is established and they have a toolbox of apps (or sites) to use, I give them a choice in tools.
  • Images and Creative Commons: Have students create their own images, take their own photos, or find photos that have Creative Commons Licenses and have them properly cite the photo either on the same page as the picture or at the end.
  • Background music and Creative Commons: If there is not music to choose from on the app or site, then find music that is legal to use in your video. I select music from the list suggested by Creative Commons, Dano Songs, or Melody Loops. However, background music is not a necessity, especially if it's new to the class. 
  • Production: Before production, I treat this part of the process much like I would the rough draft of a writing assignment with editing and revising. Here's where the mini-lessons come in about voice, word choice, etc. I like to conference with my students to make sure they are ready for production, then I allow them to start once they've gathered all of the photos and music (optional).


I'm highlighting five apps appropriate for various ages and for beginners (with integrating the iPads and/or are new to digital storytelling). These apps are also currently free.
  • Fotobabble: The Fotobabble app makes narrating, editing, and sharing a single photo easy. While there are several sharing options, including email, I've found that saving in the Fotobabble app is easiest because it can be opened at the desktop site (once an account is created) and shared with others via the embed code on a website/blog or by the URL. The drawback of this app is it only allows one image. Therefore, if the student wants to show more images, a collage of images can be created.

  • Toontastic is a cartoon storyboard for recording digital stories. This is a great app to apply creativity, speaking and listening, with narrative elements. With this app, once you tap Done, it has the "Share this cartoon online on ToonTube" checked. To utilize this, create an account from the iPad. You'll get an email from Toontastic for everything created in Toontastic on your iPads (if you log into them on the iPads), and you'll give the final approval to publish their creations. On that page, there is also an embed code for your blog/website (and options to email, Tweet, or share it on FaceBook).
  • Educreations is an interactive whiteboard that can be used for digital storytelling by adding pages to the presentation and inserting photos (or drawing your own). Educreations is an iPad app that can also be accessed from your browser. Once saved on the iPad, it will save to the account created which gives an embed code for the Web and the URL.

  • StoryKit: This is an easy app to use. Here you have the option to "Share." Once you click share, you will Send story link by email. If the email is not set up, you can still copy the link and paste it into Gmail if you log on through the Internet (Safari). Even though I don't see an embed code, you can still share on a website/blog by taking a screenshot of the cover of the story, then place a link in the comment (or make the photo itself a hyperlink) to take your readers to your story.
  • Videolicious: This app allows you to combine your photos, videos, background music, and stories into a stunning movie. Just tap and talk to create the perfect digital story. It prompts you through the steps, and if you aren't sure how, each step has a tutorial teaching you how. 
    • Step 1: Choose your photos/videos, then tap Save. Note: Students should have images/videos saved in the Camera Roll prior to starting the project, including a page with Creative Commons Attribution if Creative Commons music or photos are used. I recommend building that into your graphic organizer. 
    • Step 2: Film yourself and start telling your story by clicking the record button. To show your images/video, scroll through the image/video roll as you narrate. Note: Check for non-disclosures first. If the student can not or chooses not to be video recorded, then have the student create a "Title Page" and illustration to hold up in front of the camera. When done, you can preview it and/or save it.
    • Step 3: Choose one song to enhance your movie. Note: Students can make their own, import a Creative Commons song, or use the Videolicious Theme Music. Tap Save.
    • Step 4: Set Video Size and then Save. Note: If you do not log in, then select SD for quick upload. Otherwise, if you create an account, you can choose to save it as HD or SD.
    • Step 5: Click Save in top right corner. (It will save to your Photo Album). You can email it, send it to your class Facebook account, class Twitter account, or class YouTube account. Note: For my AJUSD colleagues, I recommend saving it to the Photo Album and emailing it. It takes a little time to send/receive the email, so be patient. Furthermore, later you can plug it into your laptop to download from the iPad Photo Album to your photos and videos. (Tap Trust on your iPad). The benefit of downloading it is you can send it to your class Vimeo or YouTube account to embed on your blog.

More resources

Step 3: Publishing and connecting with an authentic audience

Celebrate their creations by sharing with others.

Building an authentic audience to view the digital stories is powerful for students. They are no longer creating a project just for the teacher -- it's for their families, friends, and people around the globe.

Each of the apps listed above have a description for sharing on the Internet. Emails can be sent to parents with the URL for where the digital story is published (or through the RSS subscription for the class blog). When shared on a teacher's blog, a Tweet can also be sent through Twitter asking for comments on their work by adding the hashtag #comments4kids. If your school has a FaceBook account, share the link there.

Reflection, evaluation, and rubrics

Providing specific feedback along the way with daily goals is part of the process. Self-evaluations using the scoring guides or rubrics are strong formatives for the students to target their next steps.

Formal or informal student reflection is part of the process. It's important that a positive class atmosphere is established for this step.
  • Asking reflective questions: Have partners share their work with one another and ask them, "What parts or images captured your interest or attention?" 
  • Digital Storytelling Rubric: I discovered Jason Ohler's post about assessing digital stories from Lyn Hilt's wiki. This is an extensive list of ideas on assessing digital storytelling.
  • Create your own rubric: If you end up creating your own rubric, remember to focus on your content standards the most with only a little emphasis (if any) on the technology piece.

Final thoughts

Digital storytelling is fabulous for content learning, 21st century learning, and active engagement. If task predicts performance, then my money is on digital storytelling.
  • What apps or digital resources would you add to this list?
  • What tips or questions would you add to this conversation about digital storytelling?
  • How else does this post connect with you?

Portions of this post was originally published in 2013 and as part of AJUSD professional development with netbooks.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Creating DOK 3 and 4 Tasks

This morning, I saw the "light bulb" illuminate as a team realized that Webb's Depth of Knowledge Level 3 (DOK 3) tasks aren't more "difficult" problems, but rather it's when students engage with content learning at deeper cognitive levels. The team recognized:
  • Even if the teachers ask higher level questions, student responses to the questions and what they "do" (the task) is what determines the Depth of Knowledge (DOK).
  • DOK 3 can be quick activities, and often times it's just taking the lesson one more step.

How does DOK 3 impact teaching fundamentals?

The skill the students are working on doesn't determine the DOK. It might be a fundamental skill, yet can engage with it at deeper cognitive level.

For example, it might  be a fundamental skill such as memorizing sight words, but then have students interact with the words such as creating a presentation for quizzing themselves on the words, or writing sentences using their new words with an illustration. Then have students reflect how using the words in writing and reading help them learn. (The example here was created by a five year old. If you have a better example of a fundamental skill at a higher level, please share!)

How does DOK 3 impact reteaching?

For reteaching, the teacher should create DOK 3 tasks for students to apply and use their new learning. Often times when students apply their learning, it becomes relevant to them as they make connections to the real world.

Does that mean that the teacher skips DOK 1 and 2 levels? No! However, it can not stop at those levels.

Reteaching should not be the same lesson or activity done in class, but slower. It should be retaught a different way. That different way should include some time engaging in DOK Level 3 thinking (and perhaps even Level 4).

Creating DOK 3 tasks

I often ask myself two or three types of questions as I create a brainstorm of tasks:
  1. Real World Connections: How is it used in the real world? How could students apply this new learning in the real world? How could they share their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom? How could they impact others with it?
  2. DOK 3 Verbs: I think about how the standard would look using DOK 3 verbs.
  3. Math Practices: In math, I also think about what the standards would look like in the context of the math practices.
Click here to enlarge and download as PDF

Assessing DOK tasks
  • DOK 1: It's easy to grade DOK 1 tasks because there are clear correct answers. -- It's either right or wrong.
  • DOK 2: In DOK 2 tasks, there's still a correct answer, however it might not be as easy to grade.
  • DOK 3 and 4: Use a rubric, or assess students' degree of understanding through various learning facets (eg: consider explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge from Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design). 
Creating criteria to critique

Critique is a DOK 3 verb. If you are having students critique something, then what's the criteria they are using? Have them establish criteria.

When I taught third grade, I brought in different flavors/types of Twizzlers and asked students which one was better. While they all had their opinions about what they liked, they couldn't critique it without establishing criteria.
Twizzlers photo by Jason Alley CC 2.0 by-nc-sa

Students decided that texture (chewiness), presentation (how it looked), sweetness and tanginess, and aftertaste were all considerations. From there, they developed a rating scale (a rubric).

Then each student did a taste test and rated the Twizzlers. Individuals critiqued using the criteria. Afterwards, they graphed the data as evidence of their results, and created a group critique based on the data.

Students were then able to support their individual opinions with criteria, while also recognizing in the big picture where the majority/minority of opinions were.

It was a simple lesson, but from that moment on, they knew the process to create criteria in order to critique something. That process was then applied to various content standards and contexts.

Furthermore, it helped establish a class culture for empathizing with differences in opinions and expressing their opinions with justification and evidence to support their claims.


DOK 4 tasks are often taking DOK 3 tasks and connecting it to the big picture and doing so regularly over extended time. For instance, if I were to have my students engage in various tasks where they create criteria to critique something, I could ask them to develop generalizations of strategies they use while creating criteria and critiquing. Then ask them to apply those generalizations the next time they develop criteria and critique... and follow up by asking them how they'd revise their generalizations as they try it in new contexts.

Final thoughts

When students are engaged in DOK 3 and 4 tasks that are worth doing, they are more motivated to learn because it's relevant to them... and classroom management becomes easier because time is spent on teaching/learning rather than behaviors.
  • How do you create worthwhile DOK 3 or 4 tasks?
  • How did this post connect with you? What would you add to the discussion?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

High-Level Thinking, DOK, and Shifts Needed in Schools

Shifts needed in schools

Scott McLeod wrote a post a few months ago about 3 big shifts schools need to take. I agree with the three shifts; and want to add collaboration as a vehicle to accomplish the shifts, which is a shift in and of itself.

Below is my adaptation from his original three ideas:

This work, originally adapted from Scott McLeod, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Work collaboratively to change routines

What are your daily routines, and what "quick wins" can you add/substitute in those routines to plan for Depth of Knowledge (DOK) 3 and 4 questions and tasks?

I like taking the standards and thinking through questions to ask students to promote deeper thinking, and products that would prove they've truly learned the content (evidence of learning).

When I collaborate with others, not only does it take less time to create these questions and tasks, but it also gives me more ideas to work with, which benefits both my learning and student learning. Therefore, I make it a priority to substitute out other conversations that do not make as much of an impact on student learning as focusing on creating questions and tasks at the various DOK Levels.

Click here to download as a PDF.

DOK 1: Recalling the steps

In math, DOK 1 questions and tasks require students computing, which is the math I grew up with. The problem is, I could memorize the procedure for crunching numbers without conceptual understanding, and I'd never be able to apply it to my real life unless it looked like a classic worksheet problem.

DOK questions are easy to assess with whiteboards, worksheets, responders (clickers), or through Google Forms because there are correct answers.

Is it a good quick-check for understanding? Sure, as long as students have plenty of opportunities to focus on cognitively more complex thinking! This is where the shift in teaching and learning comes in.

DOK 2: Focus on skills and concepts

DOK 2 questions and tasks are about skills and concepts, so having students explain how they solve, or construct models to make their thinking visible would be a better sample of evidence of their learning. For example, have students construct a model and explain how it helps find the product of 25 and 2/3.

Furthermore, students could explain with models like this LearnZillion example, and they could capture it on a screencast such as Educreations or ShowMe on an iPad; or, using Google Draw (or Paint with a PC, or Pages on a Mac), to draw out their models, and record their voice/drawing with Screenr.

DOK 3: Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking occurs when students defend their reasoning and conclusions, which means there is more than one acceptable answer. Therefore, if I have students create two different types of models to explain their thinking when solving products (still DOK 2), then could bump it up to DOK 3 by asking them to compare and contrast models as solution strategies, and defend which model they believe is a better solution strategy.

Performance tasks, which have more than one correct answer, would also be considered DOK 3 tasks.

DOK 4: Extended thinking

A DOK 3 question and task can become a DOK 4 question and task by returning to the big ideas over a period of extended time, or by adding complexity in thinking, which requires an extended amount of time to complete (such as Project-Based Learning).

For example, in comparing and contrasting models as solution strategies, and defending which model is a better solution strategy in the DOK 3 example above; if this question is applied back to the big picture to synthesize learning, such as Karin Hess' idea to "relate mathematical or scientific concepts to other content areas, other domains, or other concepts," then it would become a DOK 4 question.

Classroom routines promoting deeper DOK
  1. Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate: Concept Maps -- This is a great routine for students to organize their understanding of a topic through concept mapping. Here's an example:
    • Write the topic in the center of page. Topic: Connect models as problem solving strategies back to other mathematical practices (or back to other content areas/concepts).
    • Generate a list of thoughts/ideas in response to the topic.
    • Sort the ideas according to how central or tangential they are to the math practices. Place central ideas closer to the center, and tangential ideas towards the outsides.
    • Connect ideas by drawing lines between them and write how they are connected on the lines.
    • Elaborate on some of the central ideas, explaining the thinking further, which creates subcategories.
    • Share their thinking with others. They could share with partners, other groups within the classroom, or use digital tools to share with others outside the classroom.
  2. Chalk Talk -- This silent routine builds in wait time, and differentiates learning by allowing students to make connections with big ideas and prior knowledge.
    • Write the topic question on the white board or poster paper.  Silently work in groups of 6-8 to answer the topic question. Topic question: How does using models as problem solving strategies connect back to other mathematical practices?
    • In complete silence, write responses on the board or paper.
    • Circle text you find interesting or compelling, and write a note explaining why.
    • Connect ideas by drawing lines between them. If you aren't sure if they are connected, then place a question mark on the line. 
    • Circle text you have questions about and write the question next to the idea so others can respond.
    • Debrief afterwards by viewing other Chalk Talks going on in the classroom, and share what they gained from the Chalk Talk. They can share with a peer in the classroom, or share beyond the classroom via digital tools.

Final thoughts

It's been my observation that teachers who have a teacher-centered classroom, also have students working with more DOK 1 and DOK 2 questions/tasks. Furthermore, when those teachers integrate technology, it's more often analog, with paper/pencil substitutions. However, it's also been my observation that teachers who collaborate to design improved lessons/questions/tasks, also have an easier time transitioning to student-centered classrooms, with more DOK 3 and 4 learning opportunities, and integrating technology, connecting beyond the four classroom walls.
  • What correlations do you notice between the shifts needed in schools?
  • What classroom routines would you add to promote deeper DOK?
  • How else does this post connect with you?