Reading assessments are key to understanding your students' reading needs.

Uncover the Hidden Potential of Running Records [12 Tips]

A running record is a way to record what a child does when they read a portion of a text aloud.  The teacher records the errors made and reading behaviors that were evident.  From there, the teacher takes note of what a child is doing well and what they’re neglecting.  It’s a teacher’s tool to help understand what the child is ready for next, and guides next instructional steps. 

Running records are also a subtopic mixed in with all the “reading wars” conversation lately.  Some declare that running records are a waste of time, basing this argument around MSV.  Others say that running records are an invaluable tool, and are heavily backed by research.  That’s a conversation for another day that I won’t go into here (plus I’ve written a bit about this already). I’m not going to get into an argument about all that here.  Whether you find running records to be relevant or not,  many schools across the country ask teachers to conduct them.  So since we’re doing them, let’s get more from them.  There’s a ton of hidden potential in running records.  While we’re doing them, let’s use our time as wisely as possible, to learn all we can about our readers.   

Here are 12 ways to uncover the often untapped, hidden potential in running records:

  1. If you’re making the check marks above each word as a child reads, I’d stop.  It’s redundant–you’re already also marking omissions and insertions, so from that you’ll know if the child has 1:1 correspondence.  Stop doing this, and it’ll free you up to do other, more important things.
  2. Rather than check marks, I recommend making small arcs under the phrases a child reads, or drawing a line where they briefly pause.  Both options help you note how many words are “scooped up” in their phrasing.  This is a huge part of fluency.  You’ll be able to tell where phrasing is awkward, thereby likely impeding comprehension.  
  3. Capture students’ words per minute.  This is a great data point for fluency.  Jan Hasbrouck and Gerald Tindal have long shared that oral reading fluency (ORF) rate is an important indicator of reading success or struggle.   The scores you track can then be used for progress monitoring and, of course, teaching.   
  4. Jot down the behaviors you see kids doing.  Do they pause and crinkle up their little nose in confusion?  Shake their head a little bit?  Whisper wait, what?” and go back a bit? These things mean they’re monitoring for sense…and is a beautiful thing!  Do they read slowly and use their finger to point to all the words?  After the very earliest levels, that behavior is slowing them down.  Note it and teach them what to do instead.  
  5. At the same time, notice what they do to fix up when something doesn’t make sense or sounds grammatically funny–and what they don’t.  Do they reread to regain meaning?  Do they shrug and keep going?  Not notice at all?  
  6. This counts for words themselves but also for stress or punctuation errors.  Do they do something about it when they miss punctuation that then changes the message?  Do they emphasize when words are bolded or italicized?  Do they know where to add stress to match the meaning and tone of the text?  
  7. When you mark their attempts at a word, write it ALL down.  Every attempt.  This shows you very clearly what they know about breaking words and what they know about application of phonics patterns.
  8. Jot down what they say in terms of commentary.  Do they laugh? Talk back to the characters? Tell you stories about random connections that make no sense in relation to the text?  This is all a window into their thinking.  That child who goes off on tangents as they read?  I guarantee you they do the same thing as they read independently.  This child might need some strategies for staying focused, or for making purposeful connections.  
  9. Bother to analyze the errors and self-corrections.  Just writing down the errors is only a fraction of the work.  Really considering what students are gaining control of–and what they’re not–tells you what to teach next.  Without this step, they’re a waste of time.
  10. Do a deeper dive into what you’re noticing about students’ use of visual cues.  For too long, we’ve said “yep, they’re using visual cues” when only the first letter or two matches what they’ve said.  But let’s instead take the advice of Yaris & Burkins, who wrote Shifting the Balance.  They advise us to note where the error was a visual match…to help us understand what part of a word the child is attending to…and where they’re not.  That might look like this, which is taken from page 129 in their book:

11. Ask a comprehension question or two.  The entire point of reading is to understand the text.  Decoding, maintaining fluency, and comprehension, all done together, is the goal.  We definitely don’t want just word callers…so it’s important to check for comprehension, too.  And that fluency you’re paying attention to, by the way, is valuable insight into their level of comprehension.

12. Use the running record as a tool to help provide feedback to students.  Showing them what they are and are not doing is a great way to begin to set goals with them.  Teaching and learning go hand in hand, as it takes two to tango.  The child themself must understand what they are doing well and what they’re ready for next.

I hope you’re seeing what teaching potential lies within running records.  I hope you’re seeing greater purpose for using them in your classroom, at multiple grade levels. And they work equally well with decodable texts and with leveled texts–and beyond.

Running records can go far, far further than just taking note of what and how many errors a child has made.  Done with a little more intention, we can uncover all their hidden potential and gain so much information about our kids as readers.  They can tell you what to teach next, both individually and in groups–even whole group.  

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Two final tips about running records in general. 

1.  It’s important to conduct them regularly.  Because they’re used to inform your next teaching steps, using them to monitor students’ progress is needed.  This will of course tell you how they’re progressing, and will also tell you what finer adjustments need to be made in your teaching. 

2.  This is just one type of assessment.  Although running records have a lot of hidden potential for data gathering, be sure to incorporate other assessments in order to gain the fullest picture of your readers.  

I sincerely hope you’ve found this post helpful!  If you did, kindly leave a comment, and by all means, share this post with others who might also find it helpful!

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Related Posts:  Teach the Reader, Not Just Reading, Are Your Reading Assessments Leading to Misdiagnosis?, 13 Reasons Why I Love [and Hate] the F & P Assessment, Kids are Readers, Not Letters, Getting the Most from Reading Assessments

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