Enhance Virtual Learning Using Depth of Knowledge

Teaching our students in a completely virtual environment has been a whole new world. The strategies used in the traditional in-person classroom to group students for success have gone by the wayside.

Differentiated instruction is now more challenging. Chances are you haven’t met your students in person and you aren’t familiar with their true academic capabilities. While you can assess a few cognitive abilities virtually, fully getting to know your students and teaching them will take more than daily interaction over a video platform.

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Discover Your Student’s Learning Style

To assess your students’ learning style, you must administer a learning-styles inventory. If you were in the traditional instructional setting, coupled with the learning-styles inventory, you could build rapport with your students, get to know their personalities, and aid in building your pedagogy to address their best learning style.

Remember there are several different types of learning styles: visual, aura, verbal, and tactile. The styles overlap, but for the most part they work together for our students to become academically successful.

How do we tailor virtual instruction so that it mirrors what we see in the traditional classroom?

Depth of Knowledge to Enhance Learning

Utilizing Webb’s Depth-of-Knowledge (DOK) model to ensure that students understand what they are learning in this virtual environment will be one of keys to their success.

The DOK is quite similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy varies student learning based on their comprehension and skill set. Once a pre-assessment is completed, students are placed on a spectrum, and student learning is geared to one of the three tier levels. The DOK digs deeper to present a scaffolded approach to learning. It goes in depth to produce a greater outcome based on learning attainment, explanation of answers, and research.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is the breadth of learning and the DOK is the depth.

Level 1 is the lowest level on the DOK spectrum. This is the level of recall. What can your students discern from their prior knowledge, real-life events, or rote memorization? This is a basic questioning strategy. If you are using Zoom or Google Classroom, you can create questions to present in your chat or create a Google form to place in your classroom so students can answer basic recall questions.

Level 2 on the DOK spectrum focuses on summarization. Basic relationships are identified through cause and effect, multiple-step problems, and identifying patterns in behavior. For a virtual lesson, students can be placed in breakout rooms to organize, construct, and make observations about what they have learned. Posting a question in a breakout session can promote student learning by encouraging a didactic discussion among your students that you monitor.

As you increase on the hierarchy, students take more ownership of their learning, and your classes focus more on a constructivist approach to learning instead of a behavioral approach.


Photo: iStock by Getty Images / Drazen Zigic


Level 3 on the DOK spectrum focuses on strategic intentional thinking and learning for your students. In levels 1 and 2, you introduce the concept and build on it. These are base-level skills that students acquire in elementary school. Strategic thinking is the premise for this level. How can your students develop their own learning?

Have students critique and debate a contextual piece of history. A great example would be the pathway to the creation of the Civil Rights Act—its purpose then and now. This could be a virtual PBL project for your students in which they take the following steps: hypothesize, cite evidence, develop a logical argument, and draw conclusions.

As students progress to middle and junior high school, their learning shifts to development, inquiry thinking, and existential synthesis.

Level 4 on the DOK spectrum focuses on extended thinking. Here is where your students are allowed to complete the pathway to their learning. This is the demonstration phase, encompassing creativity, evaluation, and analysis.

Applying DOK to the Virtual Classroom

Currently there are many issues that are plaguing our society. Students can focus on one issue in a research project—for example, the purpose of eliminating hunger and how it can sustain the evolution of mankind. Elevate student learning by specifying the problem, analyzing the data, and developing a solution that will be in the best interest of the audience the project is meant to be presented to. The project should conclude with a presentation that utilizes all the student skills learned. 

This can be an independent or group project that students complete virtually using any method (e.g., PowerPoint, Vimeo, Google Slides, Powtoon, Canva, Prezi). By giving students the choice in topic and presentation method, you are allowing flexibility and catering to each student’s learning style. Lessons focusing on supporting student learning must center on their varied learning styles and develop depth of knowledge. This is essential to incorporate into activities, projects, and lessons now more than ever.

Enhance Depth of Knowledge with digital activities from Active Classroom

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Sheree Turner, PhD is a Master Teacher Leader in an urban school district in Atlanta and a 27-year veteran educator specializing in English Language Arts (ELA) and social studies. Dr. Turner is also an adjunct professor with University of Phoenix in the School of Education graduate studies. She is certified in middle grades social studies, gifted-learner endorsed, and reading endorsed. Her area of interest is ensuring social studies does not become extinct in the 21st century classroom.

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