We recently sat down with Laura Lojko—an educator in Washington, DC—to learn more about her experience implementing Geodes alongside Wit & Wisdom and Fundations®. Laura has been teaching for six years, with experience teaching kindergarten through grade 4 humanities. She started her career as a capital teaching resident before joining Center City Public Charter School in 2018. Laura has experience teaching Wit & Wisdom in grades 2 through 4 and has been using Geodes for two years in grade 2. Laura also became a Great Minds® Professional Development Fellow in 2022.
- Center City Public Charter School
- 1,387 students
- 71% Black, 23% Hispanic, 4% Two or more races
- Began Wit & Wisdom® implementation in school year 2018-2019 and Geodes® implementation in school year 2021-2022
What literacy programs and materials are you currently using in your classroom?
Laura Lojko: We start our ELA block with about 10 minutes of Heggerty, and then we'll do about 25–30 minutes of Fundations®. We go through letter sounds and decoding, we do some fluency passages, students practice with dictation, and we go through very explicit spelling rules. Then we do Wit & Wisdom for about 75 minutes. During that time, we dive into Wit & Wisdom texts, and students are writing to either build their knowledge or practice writing skills. Then we move into small groups, and my co-teacher and I both lead instruction using separate Geodes with the goal that every student is exposed to two Geodes per week. If students are not with me or my co-teacher doing Geodes, they are with the ELL instructor—because we have primarily multilingual students—or they are doing intervention for phonics or accessing Lexia.
Why is Geodes sequenced at the end of the literacy block?
Laura Lojko: We start with explicit phonics because we’re giving children the skills that they need to decode the text that they’re going to read when they’re in Geodes. Then, when we’re in Wit & Wisdom, we’re building background information that’s going to be essential to Geodes as well. So ideally, by the time they get in front of the Geodes text they have the foundational skills to decode the text as well as the background knowledge to decipher the text-specific vocabulary, and their interest is already engaged in the topic from Wit & Wisdom as well.
What literacy programs or materials were you previously using?
Laura Lojko: Before our district adopted Geodes, we were primarily printing leveled texts from online. That was a lot of work for me because we were looking at student data, and I was trying to handpick books that would meet a group’s needs based on what we were focusing on in class. With Geodes, I no longer have to do that, which is amazing. I would also have a lot of guilt over my students not putting their hands on beautiful books. In grade 3 and beyond, students are expected to read colorful books that have text features and very rich language, not just books with CVC words that rhyme. Now that we have Geodes, it’s great to be able to give students books that are not only readable but are also rich in knowledge and content. I can give them books that they want to read and that enable them to look at other books and know the text features with confidence so they can read to learn new information.
Did you experience any apprehension as you transitioned from those materials to Geodes, Wit & Wisdom, and Fundations®?
Laura Lojko: I think my apprehension was what a lot of educators experience with Geodes, which is that question of, “How can there be one magic text that all students can access.” I was thinking about my lowest students, and I was anticipating that they would look at the text and feel defeated. But I’ve actually had the opposite experience. I find that if I give a child a Geodes text, they really practice it because we’re explicitly working on these skills in class. They feel empowered to keep trying because they’re reading the same text that other students are reading, and they recognize content vocabulary because we go over it in Wit & Wisdom every day. I also try to include words that students will see in Geodes during our Fundations® instruction, so they find that they’re able to access the texts because they’ve been taught how. We’ve been finding a lot of success, even just with student fluency. The more they practice, the more confident and the stronger they are the next time they read a new Geodes book.
Can you bring an example to life of how you teach a skill in Fundations®, and then how you would apply and practice it with Geodes?
Laura Lojko: Yes, for instance, last week we started doing vowel-consonant-e words in Fundations®. So next week, we will be doing two Geodes that are based in the skill of vowel-consonant-e words. We just started Module 2 about the American West, so we will be reading The Lakota and the Buffalo. In this case, I’d thumb through the book or use the Inside Geodes® resource and look for words that are vowel-consonant-e. I might see the word drape, which is also a word that I know would be confusing to multilingual learners, and I would include that word in my Fundations® practice to preview. I’ll say to students, “What is a drape? Do we know what it means to drape?” I would look up pictures online of what drape means in different contexts. Then, when students get to my table for Geodes, if the text says, “Big pelts made from animal skin draped over their backs,” I’ll show them the picture and ask, “What does it mean if it’s draping over their backs?”
I try to scaffold every moment leading up to Geodes because I know that is their big performative task of the day: Can they read a brand-new book and comprehend it? I ask myself, “Do they have the skills to decipher CVC words? Am I helping them with unfamiliar vocabulary that wouldn’t have been explicitly taught in Wit & Wisdom?” And based on students’ Fundations® level, we might also review more words just decoding—I might have them say the sound and blend for several CVC words or words with suffixes—before we dive into the text.
How does your literacy block look different now with Wit & Wisdom, Geodes, and Fundations®?
Laura Lojko: It feels a lot more intentional, and it feels like everything fits together in a way that has purpose. In the past, it felt like we were trying to make things stick or find connections wherever we could, and we really struggled with writing. Now, with Fundations® and Wit & Wisdom, students understand why authors write and why they themselves might need to write. Then they have all this knowledge that’s been built about a topic that they end up having strong opinions about, and it makes all the difference in their writing.
We still spend the same amount of time on phonics, but it’s more effective. The difference is in the giant leaps we’re seeing in student success, this year especially. Last year was our first year doing Fundations®, Geodes, and Wit & Wisdom, and it did feel like a lot of effort at first to teach kids the habits of mind from Wit & Wisdom and all the language that comes with Fundations®. But this year receiving grade 2 students who did this last year, too, has been incredible. Their ability to read a new text and be invested in it, how far their writing has come versus last year’s grade 2 students—it’s really encouraging. I’m excited to see the students who are in grade 2 next year, who have received Geodes since kindergarten, and what their writing and literacy abilities look like.
How would you describe student engagement with Geodes in your classroom?
Laura Lojko: Something I love about this age group in general is their enthusiasm. It’s heartwarming when you see them cheer because they know they’re about to read a new book. I think it has to do with the fact that there are so many Geodes and they’re so beautiful and diverse looking. If you told a teacher that they are going to get a set of books that are related to this one curriculum, a teacher might expect all the illustrations and words and text features to be very uniform. But every single Geodes text is extremely unique, even if they relate to the same topic. They cover different points in history and different perspectives and different scientific facts. Sometimes the texts are illustrated, and sometimes there’s a lot of rich photographs. I think that variety is something that the kids really look forward to.
Do you have any stories about students having aha moments while they’re reading Geodes or a connection they’ve made between what they’re learning in Wit & Wisdom and Geodes?
Laura Lojko: A couple of weeks ago, we were reading a Geodes text about how crickets can be used as thermometers, and we got to connect it to math, which was really fun. It worked perfectly with the standard we were working on. There was a part where the book told students, “If you ever want to know what temperature it is, here are the three steps you do to tell the temperature based on cricket chirps.” So I had them go back to the page, I handed them my phone timer, and I had them tell each other what they should do to figure out the temperature. They went through the instructions on the page and then counted my chirps and calculated what the temperature would be if I was a real cricket.
It was like the scientific method. We were following the steps and applying the math standard of adding a number with tens to another number, and they got to go back to the text and read the directions and give each other feedback. So that was a cool interdisciplinary thing that we got to do, and students really enjoyed that story. They couldn’t believe that you could tell the temperature based on cricket chirps, and I didn’t know that, either.
Do students have free access to Geodes in the classroom or are they brought out at certain times for instruction?
Laura Lojko: We give them the grayscale My Geodes book whenever we start a module, so those are freely available to them. And when they have their computer time, I give them a choice board, and one of the choices on there is to reread a Geodes text and do a look-for. For example, in Fundations® a couple of weeks ago we were learning about plural nouns and irregular plural nouns. So the activity was for them to go through an old Geodes text and circle all the plural nouns, especially if they saw a plural noun like children or men or buffalo where it wasn’t just adding an -s or an -es to the end.
Have you gotten any feedback from parents at all about Geodes?
Laura Lojko: I get fewer questions about what “on grade-level” means, and when I do get that question, it’s a lot easier to answer. Especially when I taught kindergarten I’d get asked, “What does reading look like for this age group?” So it’s nice to just point to a book and to a page and say, “This is a word they should be able to say the sounds of and blend. This is a word that has the skills we’re working on.” It’s a good way to explicitly tell parents what the expectation is for our students.
We send home the grayscale My Geodes copies once they’ve read through the four books in a module, so they should get one sent home about every two weeks. When we had our last parent–teacher conference, I explained to parents, “These are Geodes. Students have read all these books by the time they go home. If you’re wondering how to get minutes of reading in with your child, this is exactly on grade level. If they can practice reading these books fluently, that will make all the difference.”
With my parents who speak Spanish at home, I point to the Más section of the book and encourage them to let that guide their dinner discussions. I tell them to see if their child can talk about the content in Spanish, even. There are words in the Geodes that students probably haven’t even learned about in Spanish because they aren’t words that you would normally use at home. So we tell families to have these academic discussions and see what students can recall from what we’re learning in class. It’s great to be able to tell parents that this is a tool not just in the classroom, but for them to use at home too.
What advice would you give to an educator who was just starting out with Geodes?
Laura Lojko: If I could travel back to last year, I think I would have told myself to just dive in to it. When we first started Geodes, I was a little intimidated by the pure volume of them and the idea of another thing to plan for and get through before the end of the year. But, honestly, it’s probably the easiest thing during the day to plan for. You pick the book that aligns to Fundations®, and then you look at the student need and your lesson plan is basically done for you. Plus, I think out of everything that we use, it is the most effective tool we have for students’ decoding and comprehension. It has really helped students’ foundational skills a lot.
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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.