There are two types of knowledge: the knowledge of what and the knowledge of how. The knowledge of what is declarative and the knowledge of how is procedural. This lesson reviews these types of knowledge in a classroom setting.
Can you ride a bike? Have you ever noticed that even if it’s been years since you’ve ridden one, you never really forget how to do it? But ‘how’ do you ride a bike? Were you able to write a report that teaches someone how to do it? It would probably be pretty difficult to put that into words.That is because your understanding of how to ride a bike is procedural knowledge, a skill or action that you are capable of performing. Riding a bike is something you do.The other side of that coin is declarative knowledge, which is knowledge of facts or concepts. Just as it is difficult to explain in words how to ride a bike, it is difficult to use actions to explain the history of bicycling in the 20th century.
In that case, you would use words to show your knowledge.In this lesson, we will discuss both types of knowledge in detail and cover instructional strategies to incorporate them in the classroom.
How Declarative Knowledge Works
Declarative knowledge answers the question ‘What do you know?’ It is your understanding of things, ideas, or concepts. In other words, declarative knowledge can be thought of as the who, what, when, and where of information. Declarative knowledge is normally discussed using nouns, like the names of people, places, or things or dates that events occurred.When teachers have students identify the main characters, plot, and setting of a story, they are assessing declarative knowledge.
Writing out definitions to vocabulary words or formulas in math are also examples of declarative knowledge assessment because these are factual statements answering ‘What does this word mean?’ and ‘What is the formula?’The classroom is full of declarative knowledge assessments like traditional tests, book reports, written or oral history reports, or language translation assignments. These are all ways of assessing a student’s declarative knowledge, their understanding of what they have learned.We are taught in school to focus on the questions ‘Who? What? When? Where?’ Reports are full of answers to these questions. Because all of these questions are answered with declarative knowledge, it may seem that declarative knowledge is the only important type of knowledge to evaluate in education. But does procedural knowledge have a place in the classroom?
How Procedural Knowledge Works
Procedural knowledge answers the question ‘What can you do?’ While declarative knowledge is demonstrated using nouns, procedural knowledge relies on action words, or verbs.
It is a person’s ability to carry out actions to complete a task.Any time an assignment instruction uses verbs, the standard is addressing procedural knowledge. For example, procedural instructions require a student to evaluate a mathematical expression, to compare and contrast the plots of two literacy passages, or to compose an original play based on a particular period of history. Evaluate, compare, contrast, and compose are verbs, indicating that the knowledge being assessed is procedural.A student instructed to evaluate a mathematical expression would have to remember the procedures, or steps, for completing this task; thus it is addressing procedural knowledge. A student composing a play would need to know how to develop a play. The same is true for an assignment involving the instruction to compare and contrast; making an accurate comparison requires certain steps to be taken.
Declarative and Procedural Together
Some types of knowledge seem to be strictly procedural, like riding a bike. Other items are obviously declarative, like vocabulary definitions. But can an evaluation require a student to demonstrate both procedural and declarative knowledge at the same time?Absolutely! Consider a math exam.
Students must know the formula for the exam: declarative knowledge. However, knowing the formula without knowing how to use it won’t help them complete the task. So having the procedural knowledge of how to use the formula is imperative for success.In literacy, comparing and contrasting plot points of two passages is an example of an assessment requiring both declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Without knowing how to compare and contrast passages, a student cannot complete this task. Similarly, if a student understands exactly how to compare two ideas, but does not understand the declarative concept of a plot, the task could not be completed.
You can see that in many subjects it is possible to create evaluations that assess both declarative and procedural knowledge.
Declarative knowledge is knowledge of a concept or idea. Think of it as nouns that answer the questions of who, what, when, and where.Procedural knowledge is the knowledge of a process, skill, or procedure. Think of it as the verb that answers the question how.Many types of assessment address declarative knowledge, such as writing definitions to vocabulary words, language translations, memorization of formulas, and reports.
Assessments that address procedural knowledge can ask a student to compare and contrast, evaluate, compose or any other procedure (or action word). While some deal strictly with one or the other type of knowledge, many assessments can be created to evaluate both types of knowledge at the same time, such as a math test that assesses students’ ability to recognize the need for a formula and the ability to utilize the formula itself.