“Tell me” is basically what each teacher is pleading from his or her students on a daily basis: Tell me how to subtract across zeros with regrouping; tell me the definition of photosynthesis; tell me why European monarchs sent explorers to settle in new lands.
This is all well and good, but at the end of the day, is what we are asking students to tell us really evidence of true comprehension?
Just about every teacher is familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and if they aren’t, I’ve provided a handy link for reference. Basically, in 1956, Mr. Benjamin Bloom provided us with a tool that assists educators in developing questions that get kids to tell us things–more specifically, tell us what they are learning from our lessons. This tool is divided into six categories: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create.
Fast Forward to 1997, when Norman Webb took a shot at aligning standards and standardized assessments–he succinctly whittled Bloom’s six categories into four: Recall and Reproduction, Skills and Concepts, Short-term Strategic Thinking, and Extended Thinking. This is actually known as Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or DOK.
Before I go any further, I’d like to make a suggestion: This handy wheel needs to go in lesson plan books, and maybe even on classroom walls. In order to be intentional in facilitating higher-level thinking in lessons, teachers need to keep this nearby as well as make sure that students are aware that they will be responsible for demonstrating their knowledge in these ways.
Each level requires greater cognition in order to produce an answer. For example, it’s simple for a student to tell (Level 1) what photosynthesis is, but it is much more rigorous (and engaging) to have that student create a visual representation of the process of photosynthesis with Legos.
While using higher levels of DOK is suggested in order to increase rigor and truly get students doing more than just telling, it isn’t easy to just crank out questions like, “What conclusion can you draw about the importance of the sun in the process of photosynthesis?” The most well-intentioned teachers often only achieve questions in level 1 of DOK during classroom instruction; not to mention, the higher the level of questioning, the more time students are probably going to need in order to answer the question. This is where planning for higher-level questioning serves as a benefit. Again, if our intent is to maximize student learning and have students do more than just tell us information, we need to be providing them with thoughtful questions that require deliberate responses.
Lastly, if increasing student achievement is our ultimate goal, a conscious look at our levels of questioning is extremely important. The first word of most academic standards is usually a verb found in the wheel above. Few are in Level 1. If our questioning doesn’t get much further than requiring students to tell us things, we are not helping our students get to a higher level of thinking, thus holding them back from greater levels of achievement.