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December 15, 2016

Depth of Knowledge (DoK) for Social Studies

Social Studies assessments, particularly those written to test the History or Economic-related standards, allow teachers to assess the full range of a student’s Depth of Knowledge (DoK) of the content area. Considering level 1 through 4 DoK questions stems for Social Studies can help teachers better pinpoint student understanding and where students may or may not be picking up the information they need to know. Let’s explore what different level DoK question stems for Social Studies look like. 

DoK Level 1 - Recall

At Level 1,  students knowledge and skills will be focused on simple facts, familiar terms, identifying key historical figures, identifying places on a map, etc. Many Level 1 items stay at the recall level, e.g., “Name the three branches of government.” You should only use a few DOK 1 items, but they can be helpful as the Part A portion of a multipart item, such as this two-part Essay Type item:

Part A

List the THREE branches of the U.S. Federal government.

Part B

Explain why the founders created the three branches.

The Part A portion of the example asks a Level 1 question.The Part B portion gets to Level 2 by addressing the concept of why the founders set up the system of check and balances that helps ensure a central government in which no individual or group gains too much control or power.

DOK Level 2 - Skill/Concept

At Level 2, we see items that require students to go beyond recall and display some mental processing, such as the concept explored in the Part B example above. At Level 2 students will:

  • Compare and contrast people, places, and events.
  • Identify the cause and effect of an event.
  • Summarize major events in history.
  • Identify economic patterns.
  • Convert information, for example census data or an economics-related graphs or charts.
  • Describe, interrupt, or explain a problem or issue — its cause and effect, or impact on history or today’s world.

To hit Level 2 DOK, the stems must go beyond just asking to “describe or explain” and ask about the “how” or “why” of an event or action.

DoK Level 3 - Extended Thinking

Assessing Level 3 requires items that address higher level mental processing. Students at Level 3 must go beyond the “how” or “why” of Level 2 and be asked to justify the how and why using evidence. At Level 3 students will:

  • Analyze the similarities and differences of an issue, event, or problem.
  • Use critical thinking skills to solve problems.
  • Evaluate a problem and its possible solutions.
  • Make connections across time and place to explain a larger concept or present the “big picture” of a situation, issue, or problem.

DoK Level 4 - Strategic Thinking

At Level 4, we enter the realm of a research project, or single session Performance Task that includes multiple stimuli. The use of multiple texts, or a combination of text types such as video, political cartoons, maps, charts/graphs, etc., allows for synthesizing information and presents the students with multiple resources to analyze.

As with Level 3, there is a high level of reasoning required, but the planning, research, and investigation generally goes beyond a single testing session. Still, you can build research-based Performance Tasks in Pear Assessment (formerly Edulastic) that can be limited to one session or go beyond that with multiple sessions. You may even have group or team discussions between sessions. At Level 4 students will:

  • Use multiple sources (often a variety of media types).
  • Consider multiple perspectives on specific issues, topics, or ideas.
  • Analyze social, political, historical, economic, or geographical themes and how they may correlate.

Keep track of DoK

As you create your next social studies assignment, considering these DOK tips will help you test for the desired depth of student understanding. When you construct questions in Pear Assessment, you can keep track of the level of your DoK question stems for social studies questions by labeling the item with the appropriate DoK level in the right-hand menu. Make sure you set the DoK level before you save the question and publish the assessment.

Now create an assessment with these DOK tips in mind.


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