Tales of a 4th Grade Everything

Special shout outs to Sarah Kensinger (@skensinger@NPSD), Penny Kittle (@pennykittle), Stephanie Harrison (@DrHarrisonPVSD), and our amazing #TDYAY student ambassadors.

Last week I had the honor and pleasure of connecting with a group of 4th grade #TDYAY student ambassadors in the North Penn School District. What made this day special was that our conversation was not about “TDA” it was about what made learning BETTER for students and in this case for them.

Months prior to this visitation, I worked with Miss Sarah Kensinger – a first year teacher. Sarah (like many of our new teachers) entered the profession because of her love and passion for students. Sarah wanted to give ALL her students equal access and opportunities to be successful with text analysis (and not just for the TDA). Sarah had been using the R.A.C.E.R strategy and invited me to come in and see HOW it worked. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical of the RACER acronym to teach analysis writing due to its use of the word “Explain” vs. “Analyze.” Too often I see student “RACER” writing that is purely informational vs. analytical. Sarah and her students proved me wrong.

Writer’s notebook using R.A.C.E.R. and practicing with “Because of Winn-Dixie”

On this particular day, students had already unpacked the instructional TDA for “Dear Mr. Winston”, completed a first and second read of the text, annotated their evidence using stick-notes, and were positioned in flexible seating groups with their writer’s notebooks. I huddled up with a dynamic group of learners and asked them to show me HOW they knew what the command was asking, HOW they knew what to look for in the text, and HOW they turned their evidence into analysis writing. Within seconds, every student in the group flipped open their writer’s notebook and said, “R.A.C.E.R.” I asked them what it meant and every single student pointed to the cutesy Pinteresty style bulletin board in the back of the room.

My student ambassadors enjoying a ‘chat and chew’ and telling me all about #TDYAY

One student flipped open her writer’s notebook and said, “Our teacher taught us this in the beginning of the year and it is easy to remember and makes sense.” Another student pointed out, “It’s so simple! You just look in the beginning, middle, and end of a passage, find the evidence, mark it, and transfer it to this graphic organizer.”

Me: “So it’s kind of like thinking about the text as a racetrack. The starting line is the TDA command and the laps you take around the track are your first, second, and third reads. As you finish each lap, you have to stay in your lane (text), and find evidence to match what the command is asking. Once you have all of your evidence/laps, you can cross the finish line by adding in your own thinking which is the most important part, right?”

Student Ambassadors: “YA!”

Me: “Can you show me your writing? Did you stay in your lane? Did you “finish” each lap with your own thinking?”

Student Ambassadors: Silence

Me: “Well let’s start writing together and see what our laps look like.”

Within a 90 minute block of ELA, Miss K’s students talked about their writing as if they were race car drivers. They quickly moved/removed details/evidence that “didn’t fit in this lap” or “didn’t stay in their lane.” The gradual release from a graphic organizer to a written response was seamless. I could barely keep up with them. Best part, they were doing everything in their writer’s notebook (insert shout out to Penny Kittle!). 

Writer’s Notebook Post Graphic Organizer Rough Draft
Students transfer their graphic organizer notes into their essay.
Student graphic organizer example (notice the unpacking of the command)

As the period drew to a close, Sarah asked the students to “turn and talk” about where they were in the analysis writing process. One after the other, students responded:

“Tomorrow I want to focus on how Cara kept saying the same word “sorry” over and over again, that must mean something.”

“I need to revisit one of my body paragraphs because the evidence I am using doesn’t fit my thinking, it’s like what Mrs. Burke said, I am not in my lane.”

“I am ready to transfer my graphic organizer into my essay, I pretty much already wrote it.”

Sarah looked at me and asked, “So…what did you think?” Without hesitation I responded with a hug and a high five, “You nailed it!”

Too often I meet really strong ELA teachers who think they are teaching TDA the “wrong way” because their students “don’t get it” or “can’t analyze” or “are only in 4th grade.” I meet these comments with compassion and caution. Compassion because teachers (especially new teachers) feel the pressures of common based assessments and test scores. Caution because TDA is not really about “us” it is about “them” – our kiddos.

In a recent tweet to us, Stephanie Harrison (@DrHarrisonPVSD) commented that her students are “realizing with the right tools and structures for organizing, they really CAN be cray for TDAs!”

Providing students with a consistent framework for organizing their thinking is key. Students thrive in routine and consistency and teaching TDA is no different. By putting students in the “driver’s seat” and asking them to take a few laps around the track (text/command), and to finish strong with their own thinking (analysis) is sure to lead to a photo finish. #TDYAY

Check out these resources for RACER and for Dear Mr. Winston.

3 thoughts on “Tales of a 4th Grade Everything

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this TDA lesson in such detail. It is great to see how others are using commands to write, and graphic organizers to frame the analysis. The links and student work samples are much appreciated as well!


    1. Hi Marie! I’m so happy the post and resources provided you with some new learning and thinking about TDA! We are always looking to learn from others, so please feel free to email or share (here) any ways you’ve found success with TDYAY 🙂


  2. I really loved reading this blog post today! I especially loved the comparison between the text and the race track. I may have to explain it this way to my learning support kiddos. Maybe I can figure out a way to create an bulletin board they can refer to that relates to this 🙂


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