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Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge Levels in the Classroom

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson you'll learn about Webb's depth of knowledge levels and how they can be utilized to plan or enhance lessons in the classroom. Examples are provided and a short quiz follows.

Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge Levels in the Classroom

As educators we all want to make sure students fully understand the concepts of a lesson. We often wonder if students really 'get' what we're talking about when we're yammering away. There are many layers to understanding most concepts. Sure, it's all well and good to know who signed the Declaration of Independence, but that isn't really understanding the totality of the subject. Well, have no fear educators of America, Norman Webb has come to the rescue!

Webb's depth of knowledge is a way of categorizing tasks based on the complexity of thought they provoke. Webb mapped out the many ways teachers assign a task (e.g., list the main characters, analyze the reasoning) and organized them into four levels of knowledge based on the cognitive challenge posed by each method.

I'll try and explain it using some imagery. Imagine a monkey swimming through custard. That has nothing to do with the lesson, I just think it would be funny. Ok, for real this time.

Think of four people standing in front of you. The first one isn't a person at all, but a robot! Not one of those smart ones, either. All it can do is regurgitate information back at you and perform menial tasks. The second person is an engineer, which you can tell because he has a hard hat and protractor. Picture it! This guy cares all about patterns, and categorizing things. He's always making graphs, which is probably why he has few friends. Next down the line is a general in the army. This lady (that's right, we're breaking down stereotypes!) is a strategic thinker, assessing situations, formulating plans, and using logic to make arguments. Finally, our last person is a philosopher, probably wearing a toga. He thinks deeply on subjects, critiquing them, providing analysis, and proving what is and is not true. These are our four levels.

The graphic below details just a few of the possible tasks used and how they align to each of the levels.

Depth of Knowledge Levels
Webbs depth of knowledge levels

Levels of Knowledge

Alright, now that we have a good understanding of what each of these levels relates to, we'll go through how you can implement the levels into your classroom.

Level One

The first level is the most superficial. In this level we're primarily concerned with memorizing and recalling facts. This involves rote memorization or using a formula to produce a result. Like a robot. Beep boop!

Let's say we have students who are working on a reading assignment and you want to utilize level one knowledge. You might have these students find words they don't understand and then use a dictionary to look them up. Maybe they could draw a character from a book based on the descriptors used by the author. You could have them match quotes you've pulled from the text to characters or scenarios. These are all examples of simple recall, the domain of level one.

Level Two

Now we've moved onto the second level, which is geared around taking the memorized knowledge of level one and applying some degree of comprehension. At this level students are organizing or classifying level one knowledge, or constructing graphs and identifying patterns. This is where our engineer comes into play, organizing and planning our information. He has a lot of spare time to do this, because he has no friends. Poor guy.

This time for our example we can say you're working with students on their writing skills. An example of level two knowledge might be diagramming sentences or summarizing a story they just read. Your students might try to plan out the events in a story they are writing or identify patterns in their own writing.

Level Three

At this level things are starting to get interesting. We've moved on from memorization (level one) and application (level two) to strategy and logic. Here is where our general works, commanding her troops from the war room. At this level you need to be able to look at given information and making logical inferences and assessments. You need to be able to draw conclusions based on circumstances and develop and explain your ideas. This means war, soldier!

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