Moving Forward in the Spider Web

A New Angle

Diane decided to use choice in order to encourage some debate since students reflected that it might help. They were in the part of the historical fiction unit where the students were well into their book club books and had an opportunity to do some research into the causes for their topic (holocaust, slavery in America, civil rights, deportation and refugees, the American Revolution). On the day of the next discussion, Diane had students do a quick write with choices.

After a timed quick write, students had an opportunity to turn and talk about their thinking before the large group discussion.

Before the discussion began, Diane reminded the students of the rubric as well as the anchor charts that were created from their reflections.

And Then the Web Began…

The first class (fourth period) did much better with participating and staying on topic, but we noticed they stated their opinions, but didn’t really push themselves or each other to use the text and their research to back up their thinking. During the reflection, we wondered aloud about having a WITTMYST? (What in the text makes you say that?) sign across each desk or to designate a person to ask that question when it was needed. Then the next class (fifth period) came in and we were blown away! To look at their webs, it looks like they are speaking less, but actually the discussion felt more balanced and the thinking was definitely deeper. This class also tried to stick with one book at a time; however, they also felt comfortable joining the discussion when their topic was the same (holocaust, for example) but their book was different (The Boy Who Dared and Prisoner B-3087) and it worked beautifully as they discussed similar thinking using multiple characters and events.

Fifth period’s first discussion. You can see that many participated but some more than others.
In the second discussion, you can see fifth period had more of a balance in the discussion.

After fifth period left we were excited for the next class (first period) to come in. For this class our PIIC Mentor, Carol, came to collect data as well. While this class was not very successful, we did gain some valuable insight from the data Carol collected.

While Diane and I focused on the web and taking notes while they reflected, Carol was listening to the kinds of contributions students were making within the discussion. She found 3 specific types: content, process, and disruption. After Carol and I debriefed, we noticed that content could be divided into opinion and opinion with evidence.

So when the next class (period 7) came in, I decided to take Carol’s lead and not only web but note the type on contributions that were made. I realized quickly that a new type of contribution was included. Students were clarifying to help others who did not read the book understand better.


  • Star – Started the discussion
  • P – Process (contributions that were made to facilitate the discussion)
  • O – Opinion (contributions that merely stated an opinion but did not use evidence to support it)
  • E – Evidence (contributions that stated opinion as well as text evidence to support it)
  • D – Disruption (comments that did not lend to the discussion or were off topic)
  • C – Clarify (contributions that explained further when/if someone was confused)

When asking period 7 how they thought they did, they were excited. They felt like they had a lot more of a discussion based on what the web looked like, and clearly there is some growth from one week (left below) to the next (right below)

However, when Diane and I looked at the types of contributions that were made, it helped us determine some next steps. During the reflection, for example, Payton (seen below) commented about how involved he was compared to the week prior.

Payton certainly did speak more, but when we looked closer at the types of contributions he made, we found that he offered 3 opinions, one piece of evidence, a process comment to tell others who hadn’t spoken to say something, and 2 comments that disrupted the discussion. Diane and I discussed maybe adding into reading conferences, during independent reading, a chance to discuss the data 1:1 with Payton and other kids like him. We wondered if Ayva, Denise, and Xavier would have been able to join the discussion if Payton wasn’t as we said to each other, “talking to hear himself talk.”

Next Steps

After much discussion in person and through lots of texting (because long “after” conversations are tough to do in one sitting when you’re a teacher with only so much time) we finally came to some conclusions.

Diane wished she had shown a video of a class doing a spider web discussion (as we had seen ourselves when learning about them) before jumping in. We decided instead to have the next discussion as a fishbowl. In the center circle we will have all the students reading the books that go along with the holocaust. On the outside will be the students who are reading books on the other topics. They will make a web as the inner circle reflects and pay attention as well for the various types of contributions or comments (process, opinion, evidence, clarify, disruption). Then after the discussion, the students in the outer circle will discuss what they noticed not only about the process, but also how the inner circle did with going deeper than just stating an opinion.

Our hope is that students will be more in tune to the types of contributions they can and should be making and the ones they should be avoiding. We also hope that they will have a clearer sense of what went well and how to go about improving for next time.

Until next time!

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