How to Navigate Your First SPIDER WEB Discussion with a Class

navigation toolsNow that you have developed a rubric related to the skills you want to address during discussion and have selected a topic or text for discussion, it is time to introduce SPIDER WEB discussion in your classroom. In her book The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER WEB Discussion Can Turn Students Into Learning Leaders, Alexis Wiggins provides considerable detail regarding the process (pp. 25-30):

  1. Introduce the concept to your class. You may wish to show a video of the process. Wiggins shares the following link to one of her 9th grade classes in action:
  2. Briefly discuss what you see in the video.
  3. Hand out the rubric and note that this will result in a group grade. Please note that the group grade will not be counted. The goal is to get everyone to work as a team. They need to assess themselves at the end of the session.
  4. Arrange the room in a circle or oval, so that all students can see one another. The teacher should be positioned away from the circle, but able to see all participants. The teacher will be monitoring the discussion and documenting the process.
  5. Set a time limit for discussion. The amount of time will vary depending upon the grade level of the students. Ten minutes may be appropriate for elementary students; twenty to thirty minutes may be appropriate for middle school students; and, thirty minutes or greater may be appropriate for high school students.
  6. Have students put away electronic devices. Laptops and smart phones are great tools for learning, but they often distract from meaningful, community-building discussions.
  7. Have the students start the discussion.
  8. The teacher then becomes an observer. The teacher does not intervene in discussion unless there is something harmful or overly upsetting developing. The teacher charts the discussion using a web format. All student names/locations are charted on a piece of paper. A line is drawn from student to student as the discussion is passed around. The teacher codes activities by student names (i.e. a student interrupts, so the teacher puts an I next to the name). Codes are generated by the teacher throughout the observation.
  9. When the discussion time has ended, the teacher joins the circle for debriefing. The teacher displays the web and allows the students to respond to what they see.
  10. Using the rubric, the students provide an assessment of their work as a group. They discuss the grade and what can be done differently the next time discussion is held.

While this is a simplistic overview of a very complex classroom activity, it is clear that such a format for student-led discussion can produce powerful learning. I encourage you to view the video of students in action and begin thinking about how you might bring such discussion activities into your classroom. You will find the students learn much and enjoy the process!

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