Are any school districts the exception, rather than the norm, regarding their exhaustive efforts in bringing Project Based Learning (PBL), higher-order thinking and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DoK) to each of its K-12 classrooms? As all students in the US are expected to perform at higher levels regarding solutions-based problem solving, strategic thinking and extended reasoning as required by national academic common core state standards (CCSS), it is critical for administrators and teachers across the nation to collaborate to ensure the occurrence of these educational shifts. The DoK level (1, 2, 3, 4) is determined by the degree of mental processing required by the student to meet the lesson’s or unit’s objective. PBL, at its most genuine level, is authentic, student-led learning that is purposefully planned by the teacher, or team of teachers, that offers students opportunities of critical thinking and high levels of rigor and/or engagement. One of the most critical components that must occur in making the successful shift from a teacher-directed learning setting to a student led learning setting, is for educators to release their control, so-to-say, of traditional “stand-and-deliver” style of instruction to a classroom where students are collaborating with their peers, making decisions, selecting from numerous informational sites, evaluating situations and are creating authentic, culminating end-of-unit projects.
DoK 3 and DoK 4 levels must be embraced by all educators in supporting 21st Century thinkers, future leaders and decision-makers. Asking students open-ended questions (DoK 3 and DoK 4) that do not have “right” or “wrong” answers offers learners more opportunities to experience their highest potential as thinkers. When students work at DoK 3 & 4 levels, students transfer their learning to other situations and non-routine applications, accomplishing what the Common Core expects all students to know and be able to do. When more school districts across the country commit to embracing the critical steps required to implement PBL and begin the dramatic transition from teacher-directed instruction to more innovative student-led learning, more exemplary classrooms will most likely offer more challenging opportunities to produce academically and socially prepared learners and, thus, future leaders and decision-makers.
~Nancy E. Testa, Ed. D.