If students view Text Dependent Analysis Essays as going into a battle intimidated and ill equipped with the necessary tools to win, then what can I be doing as an educator to arm them with tools and strategies to conquer the TDA? Think about this for a moment, if you’re intimidated by something, essentially, you’ve set yourself on the path to being ‘tapped out’. I learned that the hard way in college when I stood on the starting line as an intimidated and anxious Freshman, who was expected to help Villanova win the cross country team title. Because of my intimidated mindset, I was already ‘tapped out’ of the race before it had even begun. For many of our students, they are faced with a similar hurdle, in that when they hear the words TDA, they have already tapped out.
Two years ago I was co-teaching grade 5 ELA in the North Penn School District with a diverse group of students who had a variety of academic, social and emotional needs. Despite our best attempt to engage our students, my co-teacher and I often felt defeated, completely lost and ready to tap out. We did a lot of reflection that year and asked ourselves what we could do to ensure that ALL students were tapped in? We knew that we had to go back to the starting line and run with our fifth grade students along this TDA journey. As their coach, our number one goal was to ensure no student had an opportunity to tap out. How were we going to cultivate a culture where everyone was ‘tapped in’ to TDA? ‘ALL IN’ became our new mindset for TDA success.
Before we walked to the starting line, a few things that we knew that we needed to instill in our team were confidence, consistency, and celebrating small wins each step of the way.
“Confidence is contagious, but so is a lack of confidence”
– Vince Lombardi.
What exactly were the hurdles getting in the way of my students having confidence? When I asked students what gave them the most stress, the general consensus was a lot of writing and not understanding the language embedded in the command. Back to the starting line I went. I asked myself, what helped me as an athlete to develop confidence and mental energy to win races? Consistency, practice, and taking things one step at a time.
The first step I needed to take with my students was creating a consistent TDA “training” plan that would provide all students with access to the text, the language, and the thinking and writing needed to make TDA a success. I chose to commit to using what we now call our “TDA MASTER COPY” graphic organizer. This organizer is now a pillar to all of my TDA instruction. A favorite part of the organizer is that it always starts with an instructional break down of the TDA command. The unpacking of the command allows me additional instructional time to expose students to the oral and academic language they need in order to have meaningful conversations about the text.
As with any plan, one size does not fit all. Some of my students’ “starting lines” were a few miles back, while others were right on pace for where I needed them to be. None of that mattered because I was ‘tapped in’ to keeping the oral language and tools for analysis consistent. To support this consistency, I gave students a copy of the instructional TDA sentence stems that would became the norm for responding to various writing commands across content areas. I’m not going to lie and say that I immediately had every student writing five paragraph essays in response to a TDA command, but what I was seeing was progress, growth and a positive shift of our students’ mindsets from TDA-’No way’ to TDYAY!
The areas of growth that I began seeing were small wins . Students began to independently unpack the TDA command. Students who had language barriers were “tapping in” to conversation in their target language and then transferring the oral language to the written language increasing their language acquisition and their writing skills. Other students who had difficulty even knowing where to start were now “tapping in” and navigating the text on their own. My high flier students “sprinters” were slowing down the process and finding spaces and places to linger over the command and the text ensuring their evidence pulling and analysis were on track. Over time, the TDA training plan (graphic organizer/sentence stems linked in above) helped my students not only step up to the starting line, but cross the finish line in their own time and at their own pace.
It’s not always about seeing every student win the TDA race, but cheering for the moments of growth that are made throughout the race. As we run into the month of March and approach testing time, slow down the pace, stay focused on providing students with a consistent TDA plan, encourage ALL students to remain “TAPPED IN” for TDA, and be sure to cheer for them throughout the race, so they cross the finish line yelling “TDYAY!”
- This post was written by Meghan Smith, a 5th grade teacher who loves all things TDA! Give her a follow or reach out to her on twitter @megsmithLMSD for ideas, resources and inspiration!