Spider Web Discussion™

The Best Class You Never Taught

What is Spider Web Discussion?
If you want students that:

- Think critically
- Work collaboratively
- Behave ethically
- Ask and answer high-level questions
- Support their ideas
- Evaluate and assess their own work

Then you want to try Spider Web Discussion. It asks students to lead and assess and teachers to observe and coach.

What does the name mean?
The name is an acronym, describing the specific aspects of the discussion and its process:

S ynergetic – a collaborative, group effort with a single group grade
p rocess – a process that must be practiced and honed
i ndependent – students work independently; teacher observes and gives feedback
d eveloped – a developed, sustained discussion that aims to “get somewhere”
xploration – an exploration of ideas, texts, or questions through discussion
with a
r ubric – a clear, specific rubric against which the students can self-assess

Web - A word that describes two aspects of the method:
1. The physical map of the discussion
2. A metaphor for the process -- like a web, all participants must pull their own weight equally, or the web cannot be strong.

What does it look like?
Like this footage from Alexis's ninth-grade English classroom in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

What technology does it require?
Pen and paper

How was it developed and by whom?
Alexis Wiggins, a current high-school English teacher, writer, and consultant, developed it based on her work in a Harkness school. Spider Web Discussion is more than Harkness method or Socratic seminar, though. Through specific processes Alexis has devised, such as modeling, coding, group grading, and feedback sessions, Spider Web Discussion trains students to work together collaboratively in their problem-solving and to self-assess that process. The result is deep, high-level inquiry led and assessed by the students themselves, whether they are in second grade or high-school Geometry. Spider Web Discussion aims to create authentic collaborators, communicators, and self-evaluators out of all students, and it requires nothing more than a pen, a piece of paper, and some patience.

Where can I get training or inquire about hiring Alexis to work with our faculty?
Alexis teaches workshops in the U.S. and abroad and is happy to work with any school or district to meet their professional development needs. You can find a description of her workshops here, and you can contact her at the bottom of the description page by clicking the "Contact Alexis" button.

Where can I read more about Spider Web Discussion?
Check out Alexis’s best-selling book, The Best Class You Never Taught, loaded with tips, research and detailed explanations of how to begin Spider Web Discussion. You might also want to check out ASCD's free study guide, which is an excellent companion or resource for a book study.

You can also read more of Alexis's educational musings, tips and insights by signing up for her monthly newsletter here, and follow her on Twitter at the handle alexiswiggins.