Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Code Has 4 Letters But is NOT DOK 4

coding is not DOK 4
Code Has 4 Letters But is NOT DOK 4

coding is not DOK 4

Code Has 4 Letters

Coding CAN be DOK 4, however coding by itself is not enough information to determine critical thinking levels.

Coding is NOT Hard!

Kindergartners participate in the hour of code and code Scratch and Sphero robots. I want to break the myth right now that coding is hard and thus by nature is critical thinking. It is neither.

Copying is DOK Zero

If I give you a few lines of code and have you type them exactly into a script editor and run it, that is DOK ZERO. There is no thinking on your part, no need to understand. You will code but it has the same cognitive load as copying a spelling list.

DOK 4 is taking what you know and applying it to a new situation. If you learn some coding methods that is probably DOK 1. When you memorize things that is low critical thinking. If you are then given a challenge to solve a problem and you figure out how to take those coding methods and solve that problem with a creative solution, that is probably DOK 4.

If you are shown how to code something and asked to recreate it. That is DOK 1.

If you learn some methods and an application of the code and then are asked to modify it a little and you have to figure out the modification it is probably only DOK 2.

Coding is a Verb

Coding is a verb and you can not classify the DOK level of a verb. “Create a list of spelling words” is DOK 1. The verb create does not define the critical thinking level of the student.

I enjoy debating DOK with Shelley Burgess. When I ask her “do you think this is DOK 3?” I can almost always hear her say “I would have to see it in action.” As she says, you can create a DOK 3 activity but until you see how it actually is carried out and how much scaffolding the teacher does you can not determine the DOK level. If the teacher does the thinking for the students it reduces the DOK of the activity.

I do a demonstration where I open a Google Sheets spreadsheet in front of an audience. I go to the Tools menu and choose “Script editor.” Without making a mistake and without hesitating I type out the entire set of methods to code a menu. I run the code and the Google Sheets has a new menu interface. It is definitely cool!! However, what DOK is it? The task does not describe the DOK. How much critical thinking was I doing? None. It is straight up recall. Thus, DOK 1.

On the other hand, if I did not know how to code a menu and I had to figure it out, it would probably be DOK 3; assuming I had to strategically think. If I found some code for a menu and modified it then it would be DOK 2.

Coding is Hard

When I am coding at a DOK 4 level, it is hard. My brain is sweating. I’m trying to figure out how to make an idea of mine work when I may or may not have all the information and skills I need to code it. I probably will need to identify that I do not know something, figure out where to find that information, and determine how to apply it to my situation.

It isn’t so much that the coding is hard. Coding is easy. It’s knowing methods that result in a known outcome. It is not hard to memorize. It’s not hard to modify existing code.

I have things I generally know how to do in coding Google Apps Script. I talk to a teacher who wishes Google Apps would… And I get excited and jump into the script editor and create a solution. I jump right in because I think “that will be easy!” It won’t require very much thinking on my part, I will recall skills I already have. I will need to do an additional step of figuring out how the skills come together to solve this problem. This is usually DOK 2. I am doing some thinking but not much. It works pretty much the first time. Not much strategizing required. Once in awhile, I fall down the rabbit hole. I thought it would be an easy solution but it’s not. I have to figure out more than I anticipated. Then I am moving into DOK 3 and maybe (probably not) DOK 4 territory.

What is always hard, irrespective of coding or another activity is coming up with new ideas. Inventing is hard. It requires failure, feedback, and iterations.

Coding is Easy; DOK is Hard

If you know what you’re doing, coding is easy! And I claim FUN! [tweet]Fun is a challenge worth overcoming.[/tweet] When coding I’m often solving challenges and that feels awesome!

DOK is hard to determine. You can’t rely solely on the task description. Instead, you have to consider what level of critical thinking the student is engaged in and that is hard to do!

Want to Learn to Code?

I offer an online workshop for learning to code Google Apps Script. To be honest, it is mostly DOK 1. It will introduce you to the possibilities of coding with Google Apps Script.


I have a workshop starting March 12th, 2018. You can join late. If you miss that one, hang tight it will be offered again. See the schedule of workshops at alicekeeler.com/events

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