We recently sat down with Michelle Fryhover—an educator in Florence, Arizona—to learn more about her experience supporting Geodes implementation alongside Wit & Wisdom and the Spalding Method in Florence K–8 School. Michelle has been an educator for 29 years, starting as a preschool teacher and director. She went on to teach kindergarten for 15 years and has most recently become a reading specialist and instructional coach in her school for grades K–8.
- Florence K–8 School
- Title I eligible
- 708 students
- 49% White, 37% Hispanic, 8% Black
- Began Wit & Wisdom® implementation in July of 2018 and Geodes® implementation in July of 2022
What literacy programs are used in your K–2 classrooms?
Michelle Fryhover: We use Wit & Wisdom as our core curriculum and Spalding for foundational skills. They both line up with Geodes, which we use in our small group interventions when teachers do pull-back instruction. This is our first year where we really have dug into Geodes; so far, our students have had absolutely no problems because, with Spalding, they are learning the patterns and skills they need to get into those Geodes.
Are teachers using any other decodables or leveled readers?
Michelle Fryhover: Teachers have other decodables in the rooms, the ones that are, “The fat cat sat on a mat,” and we even have leveled books because we used leveled readers at one time. But for that teaching and application component, we definitely use Geodes more than decodables, and the students like them a whole lot more. The success they have with those decodables is good when needed, but the knowledge that they gain and the interaction they have with Geodes is more authentic and real and exciting for students. They absolutely love them.
“…The knowledge that [students] gain and the interaction they have with Geodes is more authentic and real and exciting for students. They absolutely love them.”
–Michelle Fryhover, Instructional Coach
Before Wit & Wisdom, Geodes, and Spalding, what materials were used and what prompted the shift?
Michelle Fryhover: It wasn’t consistent. We really did not have any kind of foundational skills program, and we sprinkled in leveled readers wherever we could. Everything was just teacher materials that were brought in and supplemented with whatever we thought we could use. We did have Houghton Mifflin, and a couple of my teammates and I used Core Knowledge Language Arts [CKLA]. But I always say that Wit & Wisdom is like CKLA on steroids. Wit & Wisdom levels-up the knowledge that students are getting and the learning they’re doing. That’s one of the reasons the district looked for a new core curriculum—to find that deeper knowledge and critical thinking. Wit & Wisdom checked all the boxes. We wanted students to not only learn to read, but read to learn, and to do both together at one time.
We were trained in the Spalding Method first, led by my principal at the time, who is an amazing leader. Initially, we kind of balked at it. We wanted our nice, easy curriculum that we already knew. Then we added Wit & Wisdom, and it was a couple of years later that we also brought in LETRS [Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling] training. So it’s been a long road.
When you’re comfortable in what you know, it may sound like a new approach could be better, but that change is hard. Now I want to go back and apologize to all my past students because of what I didn’t do right. But we are shifting the thinking around literacy instruction. It’s not just word recognition; we also need to have that language comprehension piece. Both of those need to go hand in hand. We are not just teaching our K–2 students the ABCs and how to read. It’s also all about that knowledge building.
What is the aha moment for teachers from the professional learning that they do with Wit & Wisdom and Geodes?
Michelle Fryhover: I think that aha moment comes from talking about the science of reading and the need to shift our thinking around learning to read and reading to learn in our K–2 grades. Then, with that knowledge, teachers go into all the book notes and really see what these curricula can offer for different students and different skills. Teachers realize that the book notes are not a lesson plan, but they really do give you the guidance you need. It’s powerful for teachers to see the science of reading and how Geodes and the Wit & Wisdom core texts really do support that and where it can take students.
How do you structure your literacy block, and how do you approach using Geodes as an intervention tool?
Michelle Fryhover: Our classrooms have 50 to 60 minutes for the core curriculum. Then we have 30 to 45 minutes for center time, which is small group intervention time that gives teachers the chance to pull students back and work with them based on skills. Whatever gaps teachers see from the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) screener, or a quick phonics screener, gives them the skill base students are missing. Then they group students based on that and use Geodes to work on those skills. First, they’ll do explicit instruction on the skill, and then they use the Geodes to read and apply it. Teachers use Geodes for all tiers of our interventions, whether it’s looking to find certain blends, or a vowel they’re working on, or getting into the text questions and comprehension for our proficient students.
Are students all working through the same text in different ways for each group, or are they studying different Geodes?
Michelle Fryhover: It depends on the skill. For those students who are still really struggling, we bring some of our kindergarten module three and four Geodes into grade 1, simply because that’s the level those students are at. So the skill a student needs determines the Geodes text they use, but mostly the students use the same book and look at it and read it focusing on different skills.
Teachers also like to put the black and white My Geodes book copies into a listening center. Students do a Whisper Phone read, and then they do some sort of book report, whether it’s drawing a picture of their favorite part and writing a sentence about it or something like that. The texts they use for that are the ones they’ve already read with the teacher in small group instruction, so they’re familiar with it and have had success with it already; when they read it independently, they know that they can do it.
Have you found that you’re generally able to keep Geodes and Wit & Wisdom moving at the same pace?
Michelle Fryhover: Yes, teachers have been sticking with using the Geodes that correspond to the Wit & Wisdom module they are in. I had one teacher tell me, “The fact that the skills that we’re teaching and the reading in Wit & Wisdom and Geodes all connect, the students really like that.” They really do try to keep everything moving along at the same pace for that that simple reason: There’s that reference piece, that frontloading or backloading of content and vocabulary, and everything falls into place.
One time I was substitute teaching in grade 1, and the class was on the Creature Features module and had just finished the Wit & Wisdom core text What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? We were doing the Geodes book with the scorpion, The Thorny Devil, and it was talking about his tail and the students were like, “Oh, that’s like the text we read about all of those different tails!” They made that connection between the different creature features in the Geodes and the core texts, and that was pretty cool.
Did you see a different level of student engagement when you transitioned from decodables or leveled readers to Geodes?
Michelle Fryhover: I do see a different level of engagement. The teachers are more engaged than I’ve ever seen them with any kind of books, and the students are engaged as well. One of the students the other day said, “[The Geodes book] is so soft, Mrs. Fryhover. It feels so good to look at and hold.” So the books are very inviting, and the teachers make them fun and set the tone for how students react to the texts. With the teachers engaged and enjoying them, I can see that coming through with the students. They all love it.
There’s also something more meaningful about the Geodes than just reading a decodable. There’s more knowledge. There are more things that the teacher can teach within Geodes to help build knowledge for students and help them learn to read. It’s that whole encompassing piece of both learning to read and reading to learn that I think keeps them way more engaged.
“The teachers are more engaged than I’ve ever seen them with any kind of books…With the teachers engaged and enjoying them, I can see that coming through with the students. They all love it.”
–Michelle Fryhover, Instructional Coach
Do you have a favorite Geodes text, or are there any that really excite students?
Michelle Fryhover: I love the Creature Features module. I have three boys and many things have come into my house, and I’m known to pick up caterpillars and bugs as well. So the Creature Features module is probably my favorite, and the students have also had a ball with it. There was one text about an elephant where I had to explain dung to students and I told them, “Just go ahead and laugh.” They loved that, and then later they had to write something, and one student actually used the word dung in his sentence. It was amazing to see that vocabulary word in his writing.
Can you talk more about how teachers use Geodes to help students build vocabulary?
Michelle Fryhover: Vocabulary has been so important. The first time reading a Geodes text, teachers go through the routine of introducing vocabulary. They’ll say, “This is not a word that’s decodable, so let me help you understand what it means so that when you’re reading, you can have a better understanding of the story.” And then, as students read the text, they become more and more familiar with the vocabulary. They learn that new vocabulary because the background knowledge is there.
When you first introduce a new Geodes text, is it always through a guided approach, or do you ever hand it off to students and see how much they can read on their own?
Michelle Fryhover: Teachers have done it both ways. If it’s the third or fourth book in a module, teachers will give the book to students as a cold read to see where they’re at with those skills that they’ve been practicing. They’ve also done it where they read the teaser on the back, get students’ curiosity going, and then walk them through the book. They do it both ways: as a guided introduction and as an assessment of students’ skills and if whether skills are transferring.
Do you think having Wit & Wisdom for a couple of years was helpful for buy-in and engagement with Geodes?
Michelle Fryhover: We did initially start with both programs, and I think that approach was overwhelming. I recently had one teacher tell me, “I don’t know that we were in a place before now where we could really appreciate Geodes. Now we have our solid base with Wit & Wisdom, so we can really add Geodes in and use them to their full effect.” I think rolling it all out at once is intimidating. It can be done, but my teachers this year were very thankful that I had reintroduced Geodes when they were ready for it. Even our new teachers, who were getting used to multiple pieces at once, were okay because of the support from our seasoned teachers that have been there and already have that solid foundation with Wit & Wisdom.
Any advice you would offer to an educator who is encountering Geodes for the first time?
Michelle Fryhover: Geodes are my absolute favorite. They are the piece that is going to bridge foundational skills with Wit & Wisdom. All the foundational skills that these students are learning, they get to apply them in the texts, and they get to really read the texts. That’s the best thing: when they pick up a Geodes book, and they can read it and know what they’re reading. When you see those students who you know struggle, and they may not be able to read the whole book, but they can read a page, or they can read a sentence—that success that they feel is the absolute best thing.
I think I need a bulletin board outside my room that says “Knowledge is power. How are you using your Geodes?” Because it is knowledge that the Geodes help bring to students, and it is power. Students have that knowledge, and they’re constantly reinforcing it with what they learn in their core texts and what they learn in the Geodes.
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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.