Have you ever wondered what is on the play sheet that Lane Kiffin has with him on the sidelines during the Alabama football games? I can tell you what he has on there. Touchdowns. Well, not touchdowns literally, but he has plays on there that when called in the right situations, at the right time, and with the right players lead to guess what… Touchdown ALABAMA!!! Sounds simple right? In the words of ESPN analyst Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.” It is a little more complicated than that. Complex, actually.

Understanding Depth of Knowledge requires an understanding of moving from simple to complicated to complex. Installing an offense is simple. The plays are essential. If followed properly, the plays produce standardized results that are easily replicated without any particular expertise. Developing a game plan is complicated. The plays are necessary and critical but not sufficient. Running plays that look good on paper increases assurances that they will be executed with a relatively high degree of certainty of the results. Playing the game is complex. The plays have a much more limited application. Running plays in practice provides experience, but no assurance of success in the game. Remember, Nick gave Lane his offense and not one of us for a reason. Expertise can contribute to the process in valuable ways, but provides neither necessary nor sufficient conditions to assure success. Every game is unique and must be understood as an individual event. There will always be some uncertainity of the outcome. However, the complexity of the process and the uncertainty of the outcome do not lead us to the conclusion that it is impossible to win the game.

Plays are simple. Once technique and terminology are mastered, running the play becomes something that can be done at a high rate of consistency. Game plans are complicated. The plans include plays, but that is just a part of it. Plays are dependent on situations such as down and distance, the defensive scheme you are facing, and the other team’s star players. Using a knowledge of common game situations leads to a relatively high degree of certainty the plan will be successful. Have you ever seen Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, throw his hands up anticipating a touchdown before the ball is even thrown?

As educators it is our goal to move learners to a depth of understanding that allows them to “play the game” with the things they have learned. It is a matter of complexity, rather than difficulty. We can throw our hands up all we want, eventually the players have to make the play. We can anticipate success but our students must “play the game” for us to truly know.

Dr. Karin Hess has developed a tool that can be used as our “play sheet.” Hess developed the Cognitive Rigor Matrix, a tool that allows educators to examine the depth of understanding required for different tasks that may seem to be at comparable levels of complexity. The CR Matrix allows educators to examine learning activities by plotting them over time. This provides a graphical display of instructional emphasis and allows educators to maintain a focus on appropriate levels of cognitive rigor.

Hess combined Bloom’s taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to develop a useful tool for educators. Hess explains that Bloom’s taxonomy has long been a great tool for classifying educational activities. These activities would be grouped into cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitude), and Psychomotor (skills). The strength of Bloom’s could be found in the action verbs. These verbs have been found useful in guiding teacher questioning but inadequate in determing the actual cognitive demand required to understand the content addressed in test question or learning activity. This lead to a rethinking of Bloom’s. We could no longer look only at the verbs (cognitive processes), but must also consider the nouns (knowledge). Bloom’s was now viewed as two dimensional with an interaction between the content taught and the thought processes used.

Hess further explains that states were forced to rethink the meaning of test alignment to include both the content assessed and the intended cognitive demand. In other words, the complexity of both the content and the task. A winning performance does not occur because of a knowledge of the plays only, the plays must be executed in the game. The plays are necessary but what is done with the plays in the game ultimately determines success. DOK levels show us the depth of understanding of the content. Teachers can use Webb’s Depth of Knowledge to design instruction and assessments for a greater range of cognitive demand without ignoring the usefulness of Bloom’s. This can be done by utilizing our play sheet, the Cognitive Rigor Matrix.

Now get out there and get your students in the game.