Cognitive Challenge And Writing Output

The cognitive work required to re-tell a story, identify facts from a text, analyze a character using textual evidence, or apply knowledge gained from multiple texts to form a new idea ranges from simple to complex. Cognitive challenge within an assignment increases when:

  • Text-dependent questions and tasks become more complex and require students to cite evidence to support their ideas. This framework utilizes Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels to capture this thinking.
  • Students are expected to complete an extended writing piece (aligned with appropriate grade-level writing expectations) that includes their original thinking/ideas supported with textual evidence. (See table below for specific suggestions around extended writing in grades K-12.)

Guiding Questions

  • When and how often are students assigned an extended writing piece that includes their original thinking/ideas supported with textual evidence?
  • When and how often are students expected to work through the writing process (plan, draft, revise, edit, and publish) with an extended writing piece?

Questions for Analysis


Does the assignment require high levels of cognitive demand?

  1. No

  2. Yes

    To meet this criterion, the assignment must align with Level 3 or Level 4 of Norman L. Webb’s
    Depth of Knowledge Levels.
Is the text complex?

  1. No
  2. Yes

If yes, what type(s) of text complexity do you notice?

  • Consider the quantitative complexity of a text (e.g., Lexile, AIZ level, gradeIlevel equivalency).

  • Consider the qualitative complexity of a text (e.g., content, theme, language, sentence structure, literary elements).

What is the level of cognitive demand required by the assignment?

  1. Recall and Reproduction – Recall a fact, term, principle, concept, or perform a routine procedure

  2. Basic Application of Skills/Concepts – Use of information, conceptual knowledge, select appropriate procedures for a task, two or more steps with decision points along the way, routine problems, organize/display data, interpret/use sample data

  3. Strategic Thinking – Requires reasoning or developing a plan or sequence of steps to approach problem; requires some decision-making and justification; abstract, complex, or non-routine; often more than one possible answer

  4. Extended Thinking – An investigation or application to real world; requires time to research, problem solve, and process multiple conditions of the problem or task; non-routine manipulations across disciplines/content areas/multiple sources

  • Based on Norman L. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Levels.

What is the writing output of the assignment?

  1. No writing

  2. Note-taking (i.e., key phrases/concepts, bulleted list, text annotation)

  3. One to two sentences

  4. Multiple short responses

  5. One paragraph

  6. Multiple paragraphs

  • Note-taking may include students jotting down key phrases/concepts, a bulleted list, using text annotations, highlighting, or taking margin notes.

  • Multiple short responses refers to assignments that require students to answer/respond to multiple questions. Answers may be one to two sentences per question or may be written as short phrase responses.

  • Multiple paragraphs may be defined as:

    • An assignment that requires students to answer at least three questions by writing a paragraph for each question

    • An assignment that requires students to write multiple (at least two), cohesive paragraphs

Does the assignment link to the creation of a piece of extended writing?

  1. No

  2. Yes

  • Extended writing may be defined as:

    • Grades K-2

      Multiple, cohesive ideas » a single complete paragraph

    • Grades 2-3

      Single paragraph » simple, multiple, cohesive paragraphs

    • Grades 4-12

      Simple, multiple, cohesive paragraphs » complex, multiple, cohesive paragraphs