Enhancing Education through Technology Successful Practices
Enhancing Education through Technology
Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!: A Grade 7 Language Arts Unit
Email Address of primary author
School / District
RESC / Contact person and email
EASTCONN/Jane Cook, Donna Drasch & Rebecca Pilver
Task Disciplines Language Arts
Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg!, is a
collaborative project developed by EASTCONN Staff Development Specialists,
year since 1993, Connecticut youth in grades 4-8 have had a unique opportunity
to participate in choosing “the best of the best” in children’s and
adolescent’s literature. The Nutmeg Book Award (http://www.nutmegaward.org/index.htm), jointly sponsored by
the Connecticut Library
Association (CLA) and the Connecticut Educational Media
Association (CEMA), encourages children to
read quality literature and to choose their favorite from a list of ten
nominated titles. Any child who has read
one or more books on the Nutmeg nominee list may vote for his or her favorite
book. Votes are compiled from students
across the State of
The Spice It Up a
Notch with Nutmeg! project began as a collaborative brainstorm. Gail Zeba, Children’s Librarian at Windham
Public Library, had purchased multiple copies of the 2006-07 Nutmeg Books but
she was having difficulty attracting students to the library and getting them
excited about reading the Nutmeg nominees.
At the same time, EASTCONN Staff Developers,
During the fall of 2006, Gail met with EASTCONN Staff
Mary Blain, a gifted Language Arts teacher at WMS, is constantly searching for high quality literature and resources that support teaching and learning. Mary heard about the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project and the possibilities of bringing the Nutmeg Award nominees to her students and happily volunteered her class to participate. It was a perfect union.
The Lesson / Unit
· Unit objectives
Spice It up a Notch with Nutmeg!:
· Task description
Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! began in Mary Blain’s class with book talks
to introduce students to the teen Nutmeg books.
Gail Zeba, Children’s Librarian at Windham Public Library, came to the
Mary asked students to rank order the
top 5 books that they would like to read from the Nutmeg Award nominee
list. She grouped them into Literature
Circles base on the books they selected, giving each child his or her first or
second choice so that the size of the Lit Circles would be roughly equal. The students divided their books into 7-8 sections
for reading. Longer books were 8
sections while shorter books were 7 sections.
As they read, they wrote in their reading journals. In their reading journals they included a
summary of what they had read as well as questions that would stimulate a discussion
After the Lit Circles completed their reading and discussions, the class brainstormed possible projects. In the individual Lit Circles, each group listed those projects from the class list that their group might be interested in doing. Mary had the students use a Decision-Making Matrix from her Kids as Planners materials. Each group established the criteria that they would use to help them choose their particular group’s project.
Once they had chosen their project, they used the Time Line tool from her Kids as Planners materials to plan their project. This tool helped them set out their target activities and assign group members responsibilities for the work and deadlines for completing the work.
As they worked on their projects in their groups, they had to keep a Record of Group Work. This served as a record of their accomplishments along the way and as a formative assessment of how well their group was working collaboratively.
When the projects were finished, each group developed a class presentation of their project. After finishing their presentation, each group completed the Reflection (assessment). Include student work samples.
Once everyone had read at least 2 books, they also had the opportunity to go into the computer lab and log into the Nutmeg Books eSchool Builder online course site and participate in the Discussion Board. They jumped right into the threaded discussions in ways that Mary didn’t expect. Instead of doing a formal written response, they were looking at in a more conversational way. After Mary read their responses and talked with them about it, she asked Donna and Rebecca if they could open up the blog feature in eSchool Builder so that students could “blog” with each other about the books they were reading. The Blog was set up but unfortunately there were technical difficulties in the computer lab on the day they were scheduled to use it. However, some of the students have independently gone to the Blog and made entries. Some still continue to use the Discussion Board and the Blog on their own even though the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project has been officially completed.
Since the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project has a
student showcase section, some of the students converted their print materials
into electronic format, using the expertise of their Computer Teacher, Syndney
· Context within which the work was produced
Students in Mary Blain’s class are required to read 2-3 books each marking period. The Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project was incorporated as part of their regular class assignments. After completing the projects, each student was required to read at least one more Nutmeg book and complete an Outside Reading Response.
· Prior learning required
Mary had previously already reviewed
questioning and summarizing techniques using the Reciprocal Teaching techniques
that were presented in last year’s professional development sessions at
· Types of groupings used in this task
Students worked in small groups that were created based on interest in specific books. Students were asked to prioritize their top five book choices. Mary gave all students either their 1st or 2nd choice because she wanted to have fairly even sized groups of no more than 5 or 6 students.
· Any differentiated strategies used in this task
Content - Students were given choice in their Nutmeg Book reading. Their book choices then directed what content they would learn. Each group focused reading and discussing their chosen book and then on doing research on the topic of their book so that they could acquire the background knowledge they needed to develop their final product.
Process – Though all students engaged in Literature Circles and in developing a final product that represented their learning, each group was given opportunities to design their own discussion questions and to develop a final project that represented the interests and learning styles of the group.
Products - Students were given choice in their culminating projects. Each group chose to approach the final product in its own unique way. Every product was different but each product was a reflection of what the students had learned during the course of the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project.
CT Curriculum Frameworks
Standard 1.1 Students use appropriate strategies before, during and after reading in order to construct.
-Select and organize relevant information from text to summarize.
-Draw conclusions and use evidence to substantiate them by using texts heard, read, and viewed.
-Make and justify inferences from explicit and/or implicit information.
Standard 1.2 Students interpret, analyze and evaluate text in order to extend understanding and appreciation.
-Interpret information that is implied in a text.
-Make and support judgments about texts.
-Discuss and respond to texts by making text-to-self, text-to-text and text-to-world connections.
Standard 1.4 Students communicate with others to create interpretations of written, oral and visual texts.
-Elicit, discuss and respect the opinions of others about written, oral and visual texts.
-Persuade listeners about judgments and opinions of works read, written and viewed.
Standard 2: Exploring and Responding to Literature
Standard 2.2 Students explore multiple responses to literature.
-Develop a critical stance and cite evidence to support the stance.
Standard 3: Communicating with Others
Standard 3.1 Students use descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive and poetic modes
-Use the appropriate features of persuasive writing.
Standard 3.2 Students prepare, publish and/or present work appropriate to audience, purpose and task.
-Determine purpose, point of view and audience, and choose an appropriate written, oral or visual format.
-Use strategies to generate and develop ideas for speaking, writing and visual activities.
Student Technology Competency Standard 3: Technology Productivity Tools and Student Technology Competency Standard 4: Technology Communications Tools
Educational experiences in Grades 5-8 will assure that students:
· Design, develop, publish, and present products (e.g., Web pages, videotapes) using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom
· Collaborate with peers, experts, and others using telecommunications and collaborative tools to investigate curriculum-related problems, issues, and information, and to develop solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom
· Use technology tools (e.g., multimedia authoring, presentation, Web tools, digital cameras, scanners) for individual and collaborative writing, communication, and publishing activities to create knowledge products for audiences inside and outside the classroom
· Use telecommunications and online resources (e.g., e-mail, online discussions, Web environments) to participate in collaborative problem-solving activities for the purpose of developing solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom
Mary reviewed the students’ work during the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project with both formative and summative assessments. Students were assessed while they were reading, while they were working on their projects and after they had completed their projects.
While students were reading their
first Nutmeg Award nominee, they were required to show the written summaries of
their reading in their reading journals.
They were graded on their journals.
Mary set the expectation that all students would get an A as long as
they had written an adequate summary of the book they were reading and
appropriate questions that provoked stimulating discussions in their
While students were reading their second (or more) Nutmeg Award nominees, they were required to write an Outside Reading Response. This gave students a way of summarizing and evaluating their Nutmeg Award nominee books based on a series of questions.
While students worked in their small groups on their projects, they were required to complete a Record of Group Work sheet on a regular basis. This encouraged groups to assess their progress along the way and to evaluate the effectiveness of their group’s process and product.
After completing their projects, students presented their small group’s work to the whole class. As students reviewed each others’ work, they received feedback on their projects from their classmates and from their teacher.
The summative assessment consisted of a written Reflection on the Nutmeg Book Project. In these written pieces, students reflected on both their process and their product. These reflections also gave Mary feedback to inform her planning and preparation for the next year’s Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project.
Mary reviewed all of the student work as well as the formative and summative assessments and incorporated that into each student’s final grade for the marking period.
Student Work (files attached)
Student Projects – All of the groups created print materials as their final products. In order to showcase their products on the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! Web site, those print materials needed to be scanned and stored in an electronic format. The following links show examples of student final products from the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project. These are PowerPoint presentations with scanned images of the printed products:
Reflections on the Nutmeg Book Project Student Work Samples - The following links show examples of student reflections on the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! project:
I think that the Spice It Up a Notch with Nutmeg! online collaborative project is really neat. Teachers in grades 4-8 can so easily adapt the activities to whatever they’re doing within their classroom, yet it gets kids connected to other classes and to other schools. When the students started participating in the threaded discussions, they took off in a way that I never expected. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year.
It will be different next year because of the time factor. We’ll get the books earlier so we won’t have the same time pressure that we had this year. This year we got started on the day before the Thanksgiving break and the students had to complete their reading and projects by the end of January so they could participate in the Nutmeg Award voting. Next year, I might choose to do one book as a whole class reading and then do the Literature Circles and outside readings afterwards. Since we know what next year’s Nutmeg Award nominees are, I’d like to find more resources for the topics to help support the kids as they read and work on their projects. This will give them more background knowledge about the topics of next year’s books.
I’ll also incorporate even more technology next year by scheduling more time in the computer lab. I can anticipate now what the students’ reactions will be when we go into the computer lab. I’ll be better able to prepare them to use the different aspects of the eSchool Builder online collaborative tools – the threaded discussions and the blog - before we even go into the computer lab. I’ll also encourage the kids to develop their products on the computer to begin with rather than converting them to PowerPoint afterwards.
Another change I’m planning for next year is to engage the students in developing a rubric for evaluating the final products. This will encourage the students to use higher order thinking skills when helping create the rubric and when assessing each other’s work.
· Poster boards
Technology Resources and Web Links
· Power Point (part of the MS Office Professional Suite)
· High speed Internet access
· eSchool Builder Course site (www.eastconn.org/eschool)