July 20

The Perfect Back-to-School Planning Pair: Depth of Knowledge & the Grid Method

Let’s face it, we all know we live in a world where, in education, student test scores mean so much. But, so does careful planning that uses all types of student data to inform our instruction.  Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and Chad Ostrowski’s Grid Method are two essential elements of planning and student goal setting that allow teachers to develop lesson segments and learning objectives based on individual student needs that are sure to lead your students straight to success!

A Brief Word about Labeling Students

As much as educators dream of a school day free from references to student assessment data or achievement scores, the reality is that we all must learn to use data in our daily planning and instruction. Research shows that doing so will help educators to better shape our instructional goals and teaching strategies. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to work in a building where you’ve already received student achievement results from the previous spring, then you’re likely knee-deep in some type of data analysis right this minute. I know I am, but that’s because I’m eager to see what I’m up against this coming fall where my student learning groups are concerned. 

That said, with the recent release of student achievement scores and the data analysis that comes along with, for many of us, it’s also time to begin thinking about our curriculum and lesson planning. As you begin planning, please do keep in mind that the data you have right now may be very raw, so be cautious. If you begin to make assumptions about your students’ abilities based on what you have at this moment, without having drilled down to the details about each student, you are setting yourself and your students up for failure. This early data is designed to give you a glance at what you are up against as you move into classrooms with new kids in the coming school year. Separate this data as you may–by class period, by grade level, whatever–but, do be careful that you are not formulating judgments based on the one number you have in front of you on this day. Instead, use that data to begin laying the groundwork for the learning objectives you will form for student groups within your class. For example, with my early data, I develop pie charts that delineate the percentages of students in each scaled score range so that I can begin to define entry points for learning for each subgroup. Later, when I start to expand my curriculum, I will use more detailed data to differentiate learning segments in order to meet the needs of all students, regardless of their subgroup.

Use DOK & Mastery Grids to Supercharge Your Planning

So, if you’ve had a look at your students’ achievement scores and you are already thinking about your curriculum as I am, I’d like to share with you the details of two critical elements of planning I can’t live without: Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK), a hierarchical model for measuring rigor, and Chad Ostrowski’s student-centered, standards-based planning tool, the Grid Method. These tools allow me to consider and incorporate a variety of student data types to develop achievable objectives for my students throughout the school year.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I attended a local teaching workshop in the middle of the 2017-2018 school year where I was introduced to DOK and the Grid Method as a pair of planning tools. Sure, I’d been given that DOK “wheel” way back when I first started teaching in 2000-whatever-it-was, but I honestly never looked at it after the first glance. In my opinion, the wheel didn’t offer me much more than Bloom’s Taxonomy already had: learning verbs that had students doing, doing, doing, and that was the teaching game I played for the next 5 years. As for the Grid Method, it’s a fairly new planning method, so in my earlier years of teaching, all I ever relied upon were daily lesson plans and my planning calendar. Then, in 2018, in that cozy little workshop on teaching strategies for gifted learners, I learned that I (and my students) had really been missing out! Educational Consultant, Karen McKinley introduced our group to the ways in which DOK and Bloom’s Taxonomy complement one another in learning objective development, and how the Grid Method is the perfect platform to combine these two hierarchical models. Below are some tips and tools related to DOK and the Grid Method that have helped me help students grow into successful learners.

About Depth of Knowledge

  • Depth of Knowledge, simply put, provides teachers with a framework for analyzing how critically a particular lesson, activity, or goal requires a student to think. In essence, DOK asks teachers to pay attention to the level of thinking involved in student learning to ensure they are setting forth rigorous standards for learning in their classroom.
  • Some teachers may be familiar with the DOK verb wheel I mentioned previously, but John R. Walkup says to ditch it! Instead, Walkup asserts, context is EVERYTHING, and the DOK wheel provides none of that. The wheel simply represents groupings of verbs that are sometimes repeated within the different DOK levels.
  • To ensure a focus on context, Maverick Education’s DOK Ceilings chart provides clarity on how to use DOK stems to construct learning objectives that involve higher order thinking that can be tied directly to your content. These stems are critical when framing student learning objectives so that you are sure you have the right level of rigor within the context of your content for each DOK ceiling.
  • In her article, Blooms Taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge (DOK), Barbara Bray encourages teachers to,  “use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide for teaching and designing instruction and Depth of Knowledge as a guide for developing skills and encouraging deeper thinking and learning.”
  • We can’t completely forget verbs though! No Grid or learning target is complete without them! To make learning objective development a little easier, try to think about it in this way: Blooms covers the doing portion of the learning objective, while DOK covers the thinking portion of the objective. Using this template, you can create your own objective by filling in the blanks with your specific doing/thinking/mastery combination: Students will    (Bloom’s, aka “doing”)    in order to    (DOK, aka “thinking higher”)    by   (demonstrating mastery)_ ., for example, 

Students will produce a creative analysis of a novel (Bloom’s) in which they synthesize their interpretation (DOK) by compiling evidence in a choice project that reveals details of the novel’s plot, setting, characters, or theme (Mastery).

  • For further help with using Bloom’s and Webb’s to construct lesson objectives, Karen Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrix demonstrates how DOK works as an extension of Bloom’s Taxonomy when constructing learning targets that focus on both concepts and skills in context.

About the Grid Method

  • In short, the Grid Method is a planning strategy that uses tiered learning targets to help students work through a series of tasks that will allow them to show mastery on the standards-based objectives you create. The key element of using the Grid Method is that all activities in the Grids you design build upon one another. Students may only progress to the next level of learning and thinking when they have demonstrated mastery of the targets within the current DOK level. It is also important to understand that where a student enters into learning on a Mastery Grid may not be the same as his or her peers, nor will they progress through Grid activities at the same pace. For more about how to manage learners entering at different skill or knowledge levels, read Ian Byrd’s article, To Differentiate: Lower Floors and Raise Ceilings.
  • Chad Ostrowski is the creator of the Grid Method and his website teachbetter.com provides detailed information about how Mastery Grids work, how to develop them, and access to related training.
  • While Grids are standards-based, they do not have to be used with standards-based grading. There are some elements of planning that are similar to SBG, but the Grid Method is much easier to develop, implement, and it allows for much simpler tracking of assessment data than standards-based grading.
  • Each of the learning objectives in your Grids should contain both Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs and DOK stems. 
  • The Grid Method does NOT replace carefully designed lesson plans. Lesson plans still need to be facilitated daily.
  • NOTE: I do create my grids  from top to bottom, as opposed to Chad’s way, from the bottom up. For example, I build my rows starting with the lowest DOK level at the top of my Grid and work down to the highest DOK level as the bottom row. At the end of each DOK row on my Grids, students will have reached the ceiling for that level and can proceed to the next level after they have shown mastery. This is purely my preference and I can’t say that it has any bearing on my success with the Grid Method.

Numbers Don’t Lie

So, why all this raving about DOK and the Grid Method? Well, since we started out talking numbers, this is where I will let the numbers speak for themselves. The 2018-2019 school year was the first year I fully incorporated the use of both DOK and the Grid Method into my lesson planning and instruction. From the 2017-2018 school year, before full implementation of Grid and DOK, to this past school year, students’ scaled achievement scores increased nearly 20% on the Ohio state standardized test for 8th grade ELA! If that isn’t convincing enough, I don’t know what is! Mind you, I do understand that achievement, i.e. passing the test, is not the end all-be all of educating kids and that growth is as, if not more, important than straight up achievement; however, I do fully anticipate seeing increases in student growth as I continue to incorporate this dynamic duo into my curriculum planning.

Using DOK and the Grid Method together allows teachers to develop rigorous learning segments for their students.  They also allow every student, despite their ability, to find the perfect entry and exit point for learning. Mastery Grids and DOK provide you and your students a path to achievement and growth throughout the year.

I look forward to your comments about how you might incorporate the Grid Method and Depth of Knowledge into your planning in the coming school year!

Happy sowing and growing successful learners!


Grid Method, student achievement, student data, student growth, Webb's Depth of Knowledge

Dawn Harris

Dawn Harris

I am a Secondary English Educator in SW Ohio & Associate Professor at Wright State University in the Graduate Teaching Program. I enjoy writing and presenting about all things education.

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