We recently sat down with Dr. Kat Smith—an educator on Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane, Washington—to learn more about her experience implementing Geodes alongside Wit & Wisdom and Fundations®. Kat has been teaching for 17 years, starting in 2006 as an intermediate teacher. She has also held roles as a literacy interventionist, a literacy specialist, and an instructional coach. Recently, Kat returned to the classroom, working with grade 1 students. Kat has a PhD in Language, Literacy, and Technology, and she teaches higher education literacy courses during the school year and summer.
- Michael Anderson Elementary School
- 460 students
- 56% White, 23% Hispanic, 5% Black
- Began Wit & Wisdom® and Geodes® implementation in SY 2020–2021
In 17 years as an educator, how have you seen literacy instruction change, or how has it changed for you personally?
Kat Smith: I was a good reader as a child. I was one of those ones where learning to read came easily. So when I had grade 3, 4, and 5 students for seven years, I didn’t know how to teach them to read. The principal I had at the time asked me, “Why don’t you do small groups?” and I said, “Because I don’t know how to do small groups.” Because I really didn’t truly know how to teach a child to read. Then I started working on my doctoral degree, and I started to learn about all the things it takes to teach a student to read, and that’s when I started to figure out “Oh, this is what you do!” And I’m still learning.
We started with Wit & Wisdom two years ago and even with the addition of Geodes, I was still initially one of those people saying, “I have to use my passages because I need everything to be decodable.” But my students weren’t interested— “Fat cat sat on a mat” is a little boring. Yes, there’s value in it, don’t get me wrong. But with the addition of Geodes, they have these books that they can actually have a conversation about and be creative with. I didn’t get that from a simple passage. Geodes have really changed that piece of the classroom and small group instruction for me.
Tell us more about the literacy programs you’re using in your classroom and how you structure your literacy block time.
Kat Smith: We have a soft start as students are coming in because of transportation and breakfast, so every morning students have two Geodes to read when they come in and they sit down, which they select on Monday mornings. Then I do a quick round of the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum, just one section, and then we start our literacy groups using Geodes and Fundations® for a reteach or a preteach. So Heggerty plus small groups go from 9:00 to 9:45.
Then we have a brain break before we move to Fundations® for 30 minutes. Then we have another brain break before we start Wit & Wisdom, which goes until about 11:10, and then we go to lunch. When we come back from lunch, we do 15 more minutes with Wit & Wisdom, usually the Deep Dive. Then we go to recess before doing another 30 minutes of Wit & Wisdom so that I can teach all 90 minutes of the lesson. So, besides lunch and recess for an hour, from 9:00 to 1:00 is literacy in my classroom.
Do you use any other decodable texts or early readers in addition to Geodes?
Kat Smith: I also use UFLI’s [University of Florida Literacy Institute’s] passages and the West Virginia Phonics passages because they're even more decodable, especially for my students who need texts to be more decodable to experience success instead of stopping and asking me what a word is. I don't want them to always have that feeling of “I have to look to the teacher for help.”
Can you explain what your station time looks like to give others a sense of how you use Geodes in your stations?
Kat Smith: We use Geodes during station time, which is from 9:05 to 9:40. For grade 1, each teacher will take a week. Next week is my week, so I will pick one of the Geodes that’s aligned to the Fundations® unit we’re currently doing. Right now, we’re in Unit 6 of Fundations®, so I will be using Geodes texts that have glued sounds and suffix -s, like The Printing Press. I’ll record myself reading The Printing Press, which takes two to four minutes depending on the text, and then I’ll insert that into our learning platform for an activity.
For the activity, I’ll use words that are decodable, or Trick Words, or sometimes vocabulary; I’ll put the words on the screen, and students mark them and record them. I also love having students do a retell after they’ve listened to the story a couple of times because then they can practice using time order words, which we also practice in Wit & Wisdom so I’m able to tie those two things together. Then the last day of the week I always do a fluency activity that is either a page or two pages depending on the text, and students record themselves fluently reading that piece of the Geodes book.
No matter what, every child engages with the Geodes book on our learning platform along with a task that’s easy to have them record so they can show that they understand the text. Then they’ll come and sit with me or the paraeducator in my classroom for more explicit instruction on whatever foundational skill we’re working on in addition to fluency, accuracy, or expression. Students who work with the paraeducator read another Geodes book and complete suggested tasks from the Inside Geodes manual such as fluency, comprehension questions, image discussions, and vocabulary discussions.
What tools do you use to group students, and how often are you rearranging students based on how their skills are developing?
Kat Smith: Groups were based on aimsweb data as a starting place, but in five weeks I’ve already shifted children around. When students record themselves reading decodable words, I listen and take notes, and I’ve shifted groups based on what I hear and observe. That way, when they come to me, they’re receiving explicit, targeted instruction. I’m always rethinking what’s going on based on what I notice with my students and all the evidence I have. For example, we recently covered new Trick Words, and some students were not retaining them for decoding. So now I’m shifting my instruction, but I’ve also shifted students so that they’re getting additional Trick Word instruction with me or the paraeducator.
How did you use Geodes differently as the interventionist last year versus as a classroom teacher this year?
Kat Smith: Last year as the interventionist, I used them because I was pushing into grades 1 and 2 classrooms, but I was using them with students who had a little more skill. My grade 1 students were on track for their end of year goals, so we read the Geodes texts that were aligned to their Fundations® unit for support and practice with real books.
With my grade 2 students, Fundations® was moving a little bit slow for the advanced readers, so I started teaching them skills that they were ready to learn before the scope and sequence taught them, like open syllable, vowel-consonant-e, and vowel teams. It was nice having authentic texts aligned to those skills and were also providing knowledge of whatever the topic was going to be in Wit & Wisdom so students could bring that knowledge to conversations in the classroom. I’m really glad to be back in the classroom because I’m getting firsthand experience of how to use Geodes better and with students of all different skill levels.
When you introduce a new Geodes text, how long do students work with it, and do they stay engaged with the text the whole time?
Kat Smith: We work with each new text for one week. In terms of engagement, I haven’t had any complaints yet. I have had one of my more skilled readers say to me, “I already read the book,” while we are still working with a text, but I ask him if he read the More section, too, and he’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I could read that.” It’s fun to watch because, while he’s doing that, the student next to him will say, “Can you read it to me?”
how Have you used Geodes to help students build vocabulary?
Kat Smith: I think of the word illustrate from one Geodes set and what I tried to do in class was make it my buzzword. When we were reading Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young, I kept repeating, “He’s the illustrator and the author of the book.” I try to find a way, when there are those important words that are going to show up repeatedly in a Geodes text, to bring the word into the classroom as much as I can. This way they’re not only hearing it during Geodes time, but they’re hearing it in whole group instruction too. It was the same when we had the word mad in one text. I kept trying to use other forms and synonyms of mad in the classroom so that they would start to grasp the specific meaning in the text.
I think Geodes are a great launching point for vocabulary terms, especially those multiple meaning ones or those big words like illustrator. Students need to know you can easily bring those words into a typical lesson and everyday conversation.
Do you let students have free access to Geodes throughout the day, or are they kept away for specific times?
Kat Smith: I’m definitely one of those people who believes students should touch books. The books are in a spot where all the students can reach them if they would like to go pick up a Geodes text. We don’t have a lot of time to spare in our schedule, but yes, they can grab them if they would like.
Is there any favorite text that students have?
Kat Smith: When my grade 1 students came up from kindergarten, they loved Scraping the Sky, which talked about buildings. For some reason they latched onto that topic and loved learning about buildings. Some of our students start their morning off at our Youth Center, and they could build buildings based on the Wit & Wisdom and Geodes content they were learning using the 3-D printer there. The students were like, “Oh, my gosh! That’s so cool!” They loved that.
Can you talk a bit about how you engage families with Geodes?
Kat Smith: The good thing is, because I have Geodes on our learning platform, parents see everything. They can watch the video themselves of that text being read aloud, and then they can also see what their child does for decoding words or responding or doing a retell. And I give an audio recording of feedback back to every student, so parents see that as well. I’m looking forward to conferences to see what parents say.
What advice would you give other educators who are just starting out with Geodes?
Kat Smith: My advice is to give these books to the children; they really like them. Leave them on desks. Leave them around the room. They’ll pick them up and they’ll read them because they can read them. It’s a great opportunity for students to have books in hand that they can read.
“Coming out of my classroom, these students are going to walk away so much more skilled, and it’s not because of me. It’s because I have quality materials that are aligned to the science of reading.”
–Kat Smith, Instructional Coach
The amount of conversation that happens in my classroom between students is incredible, and it is so cool to see the things that they say and are learning about. The knowledge is powerful. Geodes are powerful. The connection to Fundations® is powerful. Coming out of my classroom, these students are going to walk away so much more skilled, and it’s not because of me. It’s because I have quality materials that are aligned to the science of reading.
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Alyssa has nearly a decade of education research experience. She has led equity and student success research to support K-12 public school districts across the country in addressing their most pressing challenges, including college access, mental health, social emotional learning, and racial justice. Alyssa holds a B.A. in Psychology and Global Studies and an M.Ed. in Globalization and Educational Change from Lehigh University.