On this page...
- Cognitive Complexity - Depth of Knowledge (DOK)
The Role and Importance of Cognitive Complexity
Guidance for the Iowa Core Standards: Literacy and Mathematics Cognitive Complexity Additions to the Standards Documents
Determining Depth of Knowledge for Literacy and Mathematics
Cognitive Complexity - Depth of Knowledge (DOK)
The Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics are intended to play a central role in defining what teachers teach. That is, teachers are to align their instruction to the Standards. The Standards not only define the topical, procedural, and conceptual knowledge students are to learn, they also define the type of cognitive processes in which students are to engage. This is known as cognitive demand or cognitive complexity. The practical implication of cognitive complexity is that the Standards require teachers to provide students with instructional experiences that not only address the topical and conceptual knowledge of the standards, but the type of thinking called for by the standards as well. Compelling evidence suggests that when teachers align their instruction to an assessment, students perform better on that assessment. This relationship is better understood when both topical/conceptual knowledge and cognitive complexity are taken into consideration (Gamoran, Porter, Smithson, & White, 1997).
The Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics have been coded for cognitive complexity using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) approach (Webb, 2005). The DOK called for in each standard reflects the complexity of the standard, not its difficulty. The topical/conceptual knowledge detailed in a standard will be more or less difficult for each student, but requires a consistent level of complexity across students. The DOK of a standard describes the type of work students are most commonly required to perform to demonstrate their attainment of the standard. Webb’s DOK has four levels: DOK 1 = Recall, DOK 2 = Skills and Concepts, DOK 3 = Strategic Thinking, and DOK 4 = Extended Thinking. Detailed, verbatim descriptions of each level are provided on the following pages (Webb, 2002). These descriptions are intended to provide examples of the type of work students are expected to engage in for each standard.
Reading Level 1. Level 1 requires students to receive or recite facts or to use simple skills or abilities. Oral reading that does not include analysis of the text, as well as basic comprehension of a text, is included. Items require only a shallow understanding of the text presented and often consist of verbatim recall from text, slight paraphrasing of specific details from the text, or simple understanding of a single word or phrase. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 1 performance are:
- Support ideas by reference to verbatim or only slightly paraphrased details from the text.
- Use a dictionary to find the meanings of words.
- Recognize figurative language in a reading passage.
Reading Level 2. Level 2 includes the engagement of some mental processing beyond recalling or reproducing a response; it requires both comprehension and subsequent processing of text or portions of text. Inter-sentence analysis of inference is required. Some important concepts are covered, but not in a complex way. Standards and items at this level may include words such as summarize, interpret, infer, classify, organize, collect, display, compare, and determine whether fact or opinion. Literal main ideas are stressed. A Level 2 assessment item may require students to apply skills and concepts that are covered in Level 1. However, items require closer understanding of text, possibly through the item’s paraphrasing of both the question and the answer. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 2 performance are:
- Use context cues to identify the meaning of unfamiliar words, phrases, and expressions that could otherwise have multiple meanings.
- Predict a logical outcome based on information in a reading selection.
- Identify and summarize the major events in a narrative.
Reading Level 3. Deep knowledge becomes a greater focus at Level 3. Students are encouraged to go beyond the text; however, they are still required to show understanding of the ideas in the text. Students may be encouraged to explain, generalize, or connect ideas. Standards and items at Level 3 involve reasoning and planning. Students must be able to support their thinking. Items may involve abstract theme identification, inference across an entire passage, or students’ application of prior knowledge. Items may also involve more superficial connections between texts. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 3 performance are:
- Explain or recognize how the author’s purpose affects the interpretation of a reading selection.
- Summarize information from multiple sources to address a specific topic.
- Analyze and describe the characteristics of various types of literature.
Reading Level 4. Higher-order thinking is central and knowledge is deep at Level 4. The standard or assessment item at this level will probably be an extended activity, with extended time provided for completing it. The extended time period is not a distinguishing factor if the required work is only repetitive and does not require the application of significant conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking. Students take information from at least one passage of a text and are asked to apply this information to a new task. They may also be asked to develop hypotheses and perform complex analyses of the connections among texts. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 4 performance are:
- Analyze and synthesize information from multiple sources.
- Examine and explain alternative perspectives across a variety of sources.
- Describe and illustrate how common themes are found across texts from different cultures.
Writing Level 1. Level 1 requires the student to write or recite simple facts. The focus of this writing or recitation is not on complex synthesis or analysis, but on basic ideas. The students are asked to list ideas or words, as in a brainstorming activity, prior to written composition; are engaged in a simple spelling or vocabulary assessment; or are asked to write simple sentences. Students are expected to write, speak, and edit using the conventions of Standard English. This includes using appropriate grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. Students demonstrate a basic understanding and appropriate use of such reference materials as a dictionary, thesaurus, or Web site. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 1 performance are:
- Use punctuation marks correctly.
- Identify Standard English grammatical structures, including the correct use of verb tenses.
Writing Level 2. Level 2 requires some mental processing. At this level, students are engaged in first-draft writing or brief extemporaneous speaking for a limited number of purposes and audiences. Students are expected to begin connecting ideas, using a simple organizational structure. For example, students may be engaged in note-taking, outlining, or simple summaries. Text may be limited to one paragraph. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 2 performance are:
- Construct or edit compound or complex sentences, with attention to correct use of phrases and clauses.
- Use simple organizational strategies to structure written work.
- Write summaries that contain the main idea of the reading selection and pertinent details.
Writing Level 3. Level 3 requires some higher-level mental processing. Students are engaged in developing compositions that include multiple paragraphs. These compositions may include complex sentence structure and may demonstrate some synthesis and analysis. Students show awareness of their audience and purpose through focus, organization, and the use of appropriate compositional elements. The use of appropriate compositional elements includes such things as addressing chronological order in a narrative, or including supporting facts and details in an informational report. At this stage, students are engaged in editing and revising to improve the quality of the composition. Some examples that represent, but do not constitute all of, Level 3 performance are:
- Support ideas with details and examples.
- Use voice appropriate to the purpose and audience.
- Edit writing to produce a logical progression of ideas.
Writing Level 4. Higher-level thinking is central to Level 4. The standard at this level is a multi-paragraph composition that demonstrates the ability to synthesize and analyze complex ideas or themes. There is evidence of a deep awareness of purpose and audience. For example, informational papers include hypotheses and supporting evidence. Students are expected to create compositions that demonstrate a distinct voice and that stimulate the reader or listener to consider new perspectives on the addressed ideas and themes. An example that represents, but does not constitute all of, Level 4 performance is:
- Write an analysis of two selections, identifying the common theme and generating a purpose that is appropriate for both.
Level 1 (Recall) includes the recall of information such as a fact, definition, term, or a simple procedure, as well as performing a simple algorithm or applying a formula. That is, in mathematics, a one-step, well defined, and straight algorithmic procedure should be included at this lowest level. Other key words that signify Level 1 include “identify,” “recall,” “recognize,” “use,” and “measure.” Verbs such as “describe” and “explain” could be classified at different levels, depending on what is to be described and explained.
Level 2 (Skill/Concept) includes the engagement of some mental processing beyond an habitual response. A Level 2 assessment item requires students to make some decisions as to how to approach the problem or activity, whereas Level 1 requires students to demonstrate a rote response, perform a well-known algorithm, follow a set procedure (like a recipe), or perform a clearly defined series of steps. Keywords that generally distinguish a Level 2 item include “classify,” “organize,” ”estimate,” “make observations,” “collect and display data,” and “compare data.” These actions imply more than one step. For example, to compare data requires first identifying characteristics of objects or phenomena and then grouping or ordering the objects. Some action verbs, such as “explain,” “describe,” or “interpret,” could be classified at different levels depending on the object of the action. For example, interpreting information from a simple graph, or reading information from the graph, also are at Level 2. Interpreting information from a complex graph that requires some decisions on what features of the graph need to be considered and how information from the graph can be aggregated is at Level 3. Level 2 activities are not limited only to number skills, but may involve visualization skills and probability skills. Other Level 2 activities include noticing or describing non-trivial patterns, explaining the purpose and use of experimental procedures; carrying out experimental procedures; making observations and collecting data; classifying, organizing, and comparing data; and organizing and displaying data in tables, graphs, and charts.
Level 3 (Strategic Thinking) requires reasoning, planning, using evidence, and a higher level of thinking than the previous two levels. In most instances, requiring students to explain their thinking is at Level 3. Activities that require students to make conjectures are also at this level. The cognitive demands at Level 3 are complex and abstract. The complexity does not result from the fact that there are multiple answers, a possibility for both Levels 1 and 2, but because the task requires more demanding reasoning. An activity, however, that has more than one possible answer and requires students to justify the response they give would most likely be at Level 3.
Other Level 3 activities include drawing conclusions from observations; citing evidence and developing a logical argument for concepts; explaining phenomena in terms of concepts; and deciding which concepts to apply in order to solve a complex problem.
Level 4 (Extended Thinking) requires complex reasoning, planning, developing, and thinking, most likely over an extended period of time. The extended time period is not a distinguishing factor if the required work is only repetitive and does not require applying significant conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking. For example, if a student has to take the water temperature from a river each day for a month and then construct a graph, this would be classified as a Level 2. However, if the student is to conduct a river study that requires taking into consideration a number of variables, this would be a Level 4. At Level 4, the cognitive demands of the task should be high and the work should be very complex. Students should be required to make several connections—relate ideas within the content area or among content areas—and have to select one approach among many alternatives on how the situation should be solved, in order to be at this highest level. Level 4 activities include designing and conducting experiments and projects; developing and proving conjectures, making connections between a finding and related concepts and phenomena; combining and synthesizing ideas into new concepts; and critiquing experimental designs.
Based on the information gathered during the cognitive complexity studies of the Common Core and Iowa-specific additions to the Iowa, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) codes were inserted next to the Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics. The DOK codes were inserted into the Standards Documents on December 14th, 2012. No changes to the wording of the Standards themselves occurred during this process, just the insertion of the DOK codes.
Background Information: Since 2005, Iowa has been on a multi-year journey to invigorate our education system. One of the foundational elements of this effort has been the Iowa Core (formerly the Iowa Model Core Curriculum and Iowa Core Curriculum). The original version, the Iowa Model Core Curriculum, included Literacy, Mathematics, and Science for grades 9-12. Today, the Iowa Core also includes Social Studies and 21st Century Skills. All five content areas span grades K-12. The original versions of Literacy, Mathematics, and Science have been updated since it was the Iowa Model Core Curriculum. In particular, Literacy and Mathematics were updated in 2010 to include, verbatim, the entire Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics, as well as some Iowa-specific additions. In other words, the Iowa Core for Literacy and Mathematics K-12 is the Common Core plus some additional, Iowa-specific additions.
A common thread throughout the development and evolution of the Iowa Core has been a desire to set challenging, rigorous learning expectations for Iowa’s students. Accomplishing this goal requires defining the concept of “academic rigor.” The issue of rigor is frequently approached from the perspective of cognitive complexity/demand. Cognitive complexity/demand, as it applies to the Iowa Core, is defined as “what students are expected to do with topical/conceptual knowledge,” where topical/conceptual knowledge refers to “topics and information that student are supposed to learn” (Niebling, Roach, & Rahn-Blakeslee, 2008). In other words, cognitive complexity/demand is the type of thinking students need to be engaged in with the subjects and ideas they are learning about in their coursework.
A study of the Common Core State Standards completed by WestEd in 2011 that included assigning cognitive complexity codes using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) to Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics for grades 3-12. That report can be found at http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Smarter-Balanced-CCSS-Eligible-Content-Final-Report.pdf. A study was completed in Iowa examining the cognitive complexity using Webb’s DOK for the Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts and Mathematics for grades K-2 and the Iowa-specific additions. That report can be found at http://goo.gl/H284S.
There are now DOK codes assigned to all of the Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics for grades K-12. These codes have been inserted into the Iowa Core Literacy and Math Standards documents, and can be downloaded in .doc and .pdf formats. Included in these updated Standards documents is a brief introduction to cognitive complexity and Webb’s DOK, including a detailed explanation of the DOK levels. Webb’s DOK goes from lower- to higher-order thinking skills in this manner: DOK 1 = Recall, DOK 2 = Skills and Concepts, DOK 3 = Strategic Thinking, and DOK 4 = Extended Thinking.
Guidance: The Standards documents with DOK information are available for anyone to read and use. The following points should be kept in mind when reading and using these documents:
- The purpose of these documents is to provide the field with cognitive complexity information about the Standards, not to train the reader on how to use cognitive complexity/demand information. Information and training beyond the contents of the Standards documents may be needed for educators to use the DOK codes to successfully implement the Standards.
- Educators should read the information about cognitive complexity and Webb’s DOK in the introduction sections of the Standards documents before reviewing the DOK codes assigned to the Standards.
- Discussions about the Standards should include the DOK codes as well.
- For things like instructional content, instructional materials, or assessment to be considered aligned with a standard, the DOK level must meet or exceed the DOK level of the Standard.
- The DOK codes have also been imported into the Iowa Curriculum Alignment Toolkit (I-CAT). Training materials, along with the I-CAT, have been piloted and revised and are now ready to use. Districts need to contact their Area Education Agency (AEA) to schedule a training session in order to access and use the DOK information in the I-CAT.
- The full set of K-12 DOK codes for Literacy and Mathematics in additional formats (e.g., spreadsheets, other databases, .html) is forthcoming. Check the Iowa Department of Education’s information sharing channels (e.g., website, Twitter, School Leader Update) for the latest information.
The Iowa Core Standards Cognitive Complexity documents provide a summary of the cognitive complexity study of the Iowa Core Standards for Literacy and Mathematics, as well as guidance on how to use the documents. The study was conducted by Bradley Niebling, in consultation with Deb Hindman and Judith Spitzli during Spring 2012.
Background: Since 2005, Iowa has been on a multi-year journey to invigorate our education system. One of the foundational elements of this effort has been the Iowa Core (formerly the Iowa Model Core Curriculum and Iowa Core Curriculum). A common thread throughout the development and evolution of the Iowa Core has been a desire to set challenging, rigorous learning expectations for Iowa’s students. Accomplishing this goal requires defining the concept of "academic rigor."
The issue of rigor is frequently approached from the perspective of cognitive complexity/demand. Cognitive complexity/demand, as it applies to the Iowa Core, is defined as "what students are expected to do with topical/conceptual knowledge," where topical/conceptual knowledge refers to "topics and information that student are supposed to learn" (Niebling, Roach, & Rahn-Blakeslee, 2008). In other words, cognitive complexity/demand is the type of thinking students need to be engaged in with the subjects and ideas they are learning about in their coursework.
The purpose of this study was to obtain cognitive complexity/demand codes for the Iowa Core standards in Literacy and Mathematics that could be imported into the Iowa Curriculum Alignment Toolkit (I-CAT). The I-CAT is a free, web-based tool that allows teachers to enter reflections on what they taught relative to the Iowa Core Standards. The I-CAT can be used as a teacher reflection and feedback tool, as well as part of local decision making about curriculum review and revision. Having cognitive complexity/demand codes in the I-CAT will allow teachers to reflect and get data-based feedback on the extent to which what they teach, influenced by how they teach it, aligns with the Iowa Core along the cognitive complexity/demand dimension. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework was used to assign cognitive complexity/demand codes to the Iowa Core standards. Webb’s DOK goes from lower- to higher-order thinking skills in this manner: DOK 1 = Recall, DOK 2 = Skills and Concepts, DOK 3 = Strategic Thinking, and DOK 4 = Extended Thinking.
Guidance: The Executive Summary and Full Report are available for anyone to read and use. The following points should be kept in mind when reading and using these documents:
- The purpose of the report is to summarize the results of the study, not to train the reader on how to use cognitive complexity/demand information. Information and training beyond the contents of the report are likely needed for educators to successfully use the DOK codes to successfully implement the Standards.
- Since the completion of the cognitive complexity/demand study, the DOK codes have been imported into the I-CAT. Training materials, along with the I-CAT, have been piloted and revised and are now ready to use. Districts need to contact their Area Education Agency (AEA) to schedule a training session in order to access and use the DOK information in the I-CAT.
- The full set of K-12 DOK codes for Literacy and Mathematics is forthcoming, in multiple formats, for use outside the context of the I-CAT.
- For things like instructional content, instructional materials, or assessment to be considered aligned with a standard, the DOK must meet or exceed the DOK of the Standard.
Library of Congress - Offering classroom materials and professional development activities to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library's vast digital collections in their teaching. Find Library of Congress lesson plans and more that teachers can use in implementing instruction aligned with the Iowa Core standards.
The following webcasts explain the process the Department went through to integrate the National Common Core State Standards into the Iowa Core in literacy and mathematics, introduce the literacy and mathematics standards for grades K-12, and provide extended learning on certain aspects of the new standards and how they relate to teaching and learning in our state.
Click a video or transcript icon below to open it in a new window.
This webcast describes the process the Department went through in integrating the National Common Core State Standards into the Iowa Core. This is the first of a series of planned webcasts orienting teachers and administrators to the new Iowa Core in literacy and mathematics.
This webcast provides an introduction to the new Iowa Core Literacy.
In this webcast, 2010 National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling offers her perspective on the new Iowa Core Literacy standards, including her thoughts on how teachers might deal with the higher levels of text complexity demanded.
This webcast provides an introduction to the Iowa Core Literacy - Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Grades 6-12. Presenters, Yvette McCulley and Cheryl Mullenbach, refer to the Iowa Core Literacy document during the webcast.
This webcast provides an introduction to the new Iowa Core Mathematics for grades K-8.
This webcast provides an introduction to the new Iowa Core Mathematics for grades 9-12.
This webcast is an introduction to the Standards for Mathematical Practice included in the Iowa Core Mathematics.