Depth of Knowledge

a focus on complexity

What is DOK?

Depth of Knowledge, developed by Norman Webb, is a reference to the complexity of mental processing that must occur to answer a question, perform a task, or generate a product. How students interact with content determines the level of DOK.


Depth of Knowledge levels are about complexity not difficulty.

Complexity versus Difficulty

"Complexity describes the thought process that the brain uses to deal with information. For example, the question, “What is the capital of Rhode Island?” is at the Remember level, while the question “Tell me in your own words what is meant by a state capital” is at the Understand level. The second question is more complex than the first because it is at a higher level in the taxonomy.


Difficulty, on the other hand, refers to the amount of effort that the learner must expend within a level of complexity to accomplish a learning objective. It is possible for a learning activity to become increasingly difficult without becoming more complex. For example, the task “Name the states of the Union” is at the Remember level of complexity because it involves simple recall (semantic memory) for most students. Similarly, the task “Name the states of the Union and their capitals” is also at the Remember level, but is more difficult than the prior question because it involves more effort to recall additional information. "


(How the Brain Learns, David A. Sousa, 3rd edition, 2006)

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DOK is about what is AFTER the verb

DOK Level 1 - Describe three characteristics of the main character. (Simple recall)


DOK Level 2 - Describe the difference between the two characters in the story. (Cognitive processing to determine the differences)


DOK Level 3 - Describe how a different point of view use may affect the reader's understanding and bias. (Requires deep understanding of point of view, the text, and a determination of effects.)

depth of knowledge with karin hess
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Work Cited

How the Brain Learns, David A. Sousa, 3rd edition, 2006


Depth of Knowledge Flowchart, Tracy Watanabe


Depth of Knowledge Resources, Melanie Martz, IDOE


DOK Examples -http://rpdp.net/