What is Text Dependent Analysis?

Literacy Expert Jeri Thompson Discusses Her New Toolkit

After 14 years with the Center, Senior Associate Jeri Thompson retires this month, leaving an important legacy for classroom teachers: a toolkit on teaching text dependent analysis. In this Q&A, Jeri explains the practice, how she created this powerful resource, and why students need to learn analysis skills more now than ever.

What is text dependent analysis, for people who don’t know?

Text dependent analysis is an approach to teaching English/language arts. Students read a complex text in which the literary elements are not explicitly stated. Then they’re asked to analyze the text and show their comprehension of it, and the interrelationships of its literary elements, using evidence from the text to support that analysis. 

Did this idea come from the Common Core State Standards, or has it been around a long time?

It’s been around a long time. Louise Rosenblatt and Judith Langer’s work [in the late 80s and early 90s] talks about having students really dig into the text and demonstrate analysis. Earlier, it wasn’t quite so explicit, but analyzing text has been around forever: analyzing the meaning of text, analyzing the author’s moves within a text, to get at the deeper meaning. 

The Common Core came out years later [in 2010]. Those ELA standards, especially in middle school, expect analysis. There is one particular standard that has driven the work on text dependent analysis, and it’s actually a writing standard. It says that it’s through writing that students demonstrate their understanding of analyzing literary elements. 

Many districts have had to figure out which literary elements are appropriate for which grade, so they have to go back to the reading standards and their curriculum for each grade level. That takes them from the writing back to the reading standards.

You’ve worked as a speech language pathologist, reading teacher, principal and director of curriculum and instruction before coming to the Center. What led you to focus on text dependent analysis?

Reading and ELA have always been my passions. The way I got into text dependent analysis was through the Center and its contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The state hired us in 2011 when it adopted a set of standards modeled on the Common Core. 

One of the things Pennsylvania wanted to do was to test for deeper learning. In ELA, they wanted to test students on their ability to integrate reading and writing. I’m the ELA person at the Center, so I was the one who worked on that. It wasn’t called text dependent analysis. We had no name for it then. 

We brought teachers together and explored, what does a prompt look like? What is expected in a response? Data Recognition Corp. is the testing company in Pennsylvania, and they were at the table the entire time. We asked, what would a rubric look like? And it morphed from being just a test item to a realization that most of the programs used in districts do not expect teachers to teach analysis or students to demonstrate it. We started to understand that curriculum was a problem, and instruction needed to be adjusted accordingly. 

So we started to dig into, what do teachers need to know? What do administrators need to know? What should lessons look like? There were so many different spider-webby types of problems that came out of this, because we realized that this is bigger than a test item. 

We realized we needed to support teachers and administrators, and that I couldn’t do it alone year after year. So we brought in many of Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units. Over the course of five years, we had many meetings with the ELA curriculum folks at the IUs, and made sure that they were TDA-savvy: What does instruction need to look like? What does close reading need to look like? What do writing responses need to look like? How do you use the scoring rubrics? How do you think about the responses using a TDA Learning Progression? How do we move students along this progression?

We were testing out our resources. Do they work? Do they make sense? Can students demonstrate analysis? Can teachers teach analysis? What would it look like in the midst of the programs that they were currently using? This research was to ensure that it wasn’t just rhetoric, that it was actually doable. 

More recently, we started asking, what are the precursors that need to exist for students to be successful? If it’s a state-tested item in grade four, what do third grade teachers need to do and know, and what do second and first grade and kindergarten teachers need to know? So we started research on what analysis looks like in kindergarten, first, second and third grades. 

Your retirement comes as schools emerge from the pandemic. Where would you situate text dependent analysis in teachers’ work to help students with academic recovery?

That’s a really important question. I think it’s more important now than ever. There is so much nonsensical information that’s being shared. I think we need to teach students how to be really analytical in their thinking and not take things at face value. 

Teaching students to analyze text is not a simple task, especially with people having gone through trauma. But if we don’t, if we’re superficial in our instruction of reading, and students are not taught how to analyze the deeper meaning of text, or anything they hear, then I think we’re doing a huge disservice to students. 

To be ready for college or for careers, students need to be able to dig deep into their learning. It doesn’t matter what the content area is. Whether you’re going to college or not, in any career, you really need to be able to understand and analyze the meaning of any text and anything you hear. Is it rhetoric? Do you see evidence of something substantial? Is it evidence-based? And if we don’t teach kids to do that, then everything they take in is very superficial, and at face value, and that’s a problem.

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