using running record data to plan teaching

we know that most teachers are tired of the word “data” being thrown around liberally. and we tend to agree that this is a much overused word these days in education. for example, we don’t see the point of collecting data simply to put on a spreadsheet and then store in our files or deliver to our administrators. as teachers, we know that the kind of data that is worth spending our precious teaching and conferring time collecting is the kind that we can use to plan where we are headed with our teaching.

running records are a tool can provide that kind of data. (for real.)

running records are an assessment that is used in some form or another in most classrooms and often come with a leveled text or text excerpt that’s already pre-typed. they can also be done on the spot in a student or teacher chosen text using a blank collect form. in this post, we’d like to think about what we do with the results of running records.

in our school, one thing we use the results of a running record for is part of our reading grade for report cards. it’s important to know if a student is meeting grade-level expectations for text complexity. we know that teachers in many schools are required to administer running records in a similar way: as a summative assessment at set times to determine students’ independent reading levels. usually, when we administer a running record for this purpose, we would be looking for the text that is at a student’s independent level of reading, with very few errors.

arguably more important than the grade on a report card, though, is knowing a student’s independent reading level so that we can be sure every student is choosing and reading texts that are just right. while we acknowledge that running records aren’t an exact science – there will always be texts at a level more challenging than a students’ independent (i.e. “just right”) level that they are able to comprehend, maybe because of interest or experience – running records are an essential starting point for us to know our students as readers.

but the importance of running records goes beyond both report card grades and text levels. knowing the reading levels of our students doesn’t give us the information that we need to change that reading level which is, of course, the goal: for students to be growing and moving through levels. by looking beyond the level of text, we can gather other important information from a running record.

we see great value in administering running records more frequently in the course of our regular conferences as a formative assessment, especially for our beginning readers. young readers progress rapidly and if we’re limiting our running records to 3 times a year, we’re missing an opportunity to see how we can best help them progress.

in order to do this, we need to give students a running record at their instructional level. when we give students a running record with a text that is at their instructional level, we can use the information provided to help us see what strategies students are using to read. in an instructional level text, students will make enough errors for us to see what needs to be taught. if there are too few or no errors, we won’t be able to get this kind of information.

because the running record includes both oral and silent reading, we can analyze the oral reading’s fluency, which includes both reading accurately (with minimal errors) and with appropriate prosody (phrasing).

once we’ve administered a running record and coded the errors, it’s time to analyze. as we look at errors, we determine what cuing systems a student is using. we also use self-corrections to determine what cuing systems are helping students to monitor their reading. we often use the letters m, v, and s (for meaning, visual, structure/syntax) to code the errors.

once we’ve coded the errors and self corrections, we can look for patterns to determine what this student needs to continue progressing. if we look across a running record and see that a student is using meaning, structure, and visual cues to solve problem words but is still getting the words wrong, we might look further and notice that the student is only using initial sounds when using visual cues. the next step for this student could be to continue using multiple cuing sources but to expand the use of visual cues to look across the whole word.

because fluency includes prosody, we can look at the part of the passage read aloud to analyze the phrasing as well as the miscues/errors. when a student’s reading sounds choppy and slow, we look to their comprehension – both the retell and answers to questions. we often find that students have poor prosody or read slowly, but that it’s not impacting their comprehension. when this is the case, we can plan for some teaching to help the students phrase more appropriately (e.g. attending to punctuation) and also create opportunities for repeated readings of easier texts. our favorite way to do this is to have students choose a picture book read aloud to practice and eventually record for a younger grade to use in a listening center. research shows repeated readings of easy texts improves fluency, and this is an authentic and respectful way for students to do this work. and, they love it! we’ve also used poems for repeated readings (especially since they have an inherent rhythm) and ask students who need to work on fluency to post-it favorite pages from our read alouds for us to copy and send home to practice over breaks or summer for repeated readings/fluency work.

another area of the running record that can be analyzed to inform future instruction with students* is the retell. we have a sort of checklist in mind when we’re listening to the students’ retell of the passage they read, which includes things like: summarizes, determines importance, uses transitional words, includes inferences (e.g. character feelings). any of these areas that seem weaker can be focuses of future teaching.

we acknowledge that running records are not a perfect reading assessment. the bulk of our students’ independent reading is fiction, which is in the form of chapter books or novels, and we agree that the work across a book can be different than what reading looks like in shorter texts like running records. because running records or similar assessments (like the DRA) are required in most schools, though, we think it’s a missed opportunity not to mine the data that running records provide to help inform instruction.


*when looking across our class’s running record data, we would plan mini-lessons around the areas that most of the class is showing a weakness with, and then use conferences and small groups to address patterns


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