March 2015

Strategic Scaffolding: The Key to Deeper Learning


As promised last month, I’m sharing some examples of DOK 4-type learning activities. Below are links to three video clips I often use in my professional development workshops. Videos are posted at the Teaching Channel ( I’ve also included some of my facilitation notes with each video synopsis.


As you watch the videos, here are several important key ideas to keep in mind:


1.     Many parts of these tasks require DOK 1, 2, or 3 activities in order to finish the more complex (DOK 4) task successfully. There is a place for all levels of DOK in these classrooms. You can always start low; just be sure to end high (or deep).


2.     There are many opportunities for teachers to use on-going formative assessment, by asking probing questions and making observations of how students work together to solve complex problems and represent their thinking and reasoning.


3.     All students are successful because of the many ways teachers provide subtle, but strategic scaffolding. Working together in small groups and student-to-student discourse are only the beginning.


(gr 11-12 ) Statistical Analysis to Rank Baseball Players (6 min) – Students study data/multi-year records and rank order who is the best NY Yankee home run hitter, supporting conclusions using (evidence) graphical displays- box plots, spread of data, range etc. and providing reasoning.


Karin’s Facilitator notes: This is a very engaging lesson with high student involvement. Observers can listen and look for demonstration of Math Practices MP#3 (construct argument) & MP #4 (modeling). What does the teacher do during the lesson to strategically support and engage students? (E.g., students work in pairs, teacher offers choices, asks them to explain and defend rankings with data and reasoning). Defending and proving (DOK 3); Modeling with graphs, describe range/spread of data (DOK 2). Teacher then gives a homework assignment where students can transfer what they did in this lesson to 3 new data sets of their choice.  Side note: This is what Hillocks (Teaching Argument Writing, 2011) might call an argument of “judgment” - data/evidence must be used to support commonly-held criteria for the judgments made.


(gr 5-6) Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action (13.75 min) - Students plan/build and test roller coasters that are fun and safe. Observers can listen and look for demonstration of Math Practices MP#3 (construct argument) & MP #4 (modeling). What does the teacher do during the lesson to strategically support and engage students? (E.g., chiming, individual and group sketching as a formative assessment, content-based vocabulary reinforced, probing questions, small group planning and testing, coming to consensus, adding constraints to increase the complexity of the design challenge).


Karin’s Facilitator notes: Planning AND conducting an investigation is a DOK 4 task.  Data collection, prediction/hypothesizing, sketching (modeling/representation) are DOK 2 tasks. Providing reasoning and modifications based on data is DOK 3. Collectively, the combination of these tasks and additional monetary (math) constraints results solidly in a DOK 4 learning opportunity for all students. Remember that it is still a DOK 4 if you work with someone!


(gr K-2) Bringing Legends to Life (6.5 min.) - Students’ curiosity initiated the final product (origins of their school mascot) for a unit on legends. Students learn the schema of what makes a legend, read both informational and literary texts, conduct research, and develop a play script. What does the teacher do during the lesson to strategically support and engage students? (E.g., Anchor charts help students to keep focus on elements of drama; tableaus are used to reinforce the concept of character traits).


Karin’s Facilitator notes: Many parts of this project required DOK 1 (e.g., reading for details, key word searches to locate facts), DOK 2 (e.g., developing characters, distinguishing genre types), or DOK 3 activities (researching and writing a script/full story) in order to finish the more complex task successfully. Students use multiple sources in the development of the final product making it a DOK 4 learning activity. Taking the time to allow for deeper learning is the only way to get there.


- Dr. DoK  

Karin Hess, Ed.D, is a recognized international leader in developing practical approaches for using cognitive rigor and learning progressions as the foundation for formative, interim, and performance assessments.



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© since July 2014 Karin Hess, Ed.D.