By C. Elkins, OK Math and Reading Lady – with adaptations from Marie Clay and Scholastic
Taking a running record is written documentation of a child’s oral reading. It consists of listening to a child orally read a passage while you document it as best you can on paper. As the listener, you note errors (such as omissions, insertions, substitutions), pay attention to strategies they are using or neglecting, and are alert to what is easy and what is hard. Many publishers now provide a written page of the text for you to keep track of the child’s reading page by page, while experienced notetakers can do it at a moment’s notice on any blank paper.
I attended a Reading Recovery workshop about mid-way into my teaching career, and heard from two teachers who described how to take a running record and then analyze the results to determine which strategies students were using or neglecting. That one workshop forever changed how I listened to my students read, and how I talked to parents about their child’s reading successes or difficulties. About 8 years after that I had formal training in Reading Recovery methods, and subsequently completed a Masters in Reading . . . all because of that workshop! I learned all mistakes are not equal and provide a huge clue as to what cueing system a child is using. I learned that I can help steer a child toward a neglected strategy by carefully crafted teacher prompts. I learned that there are much more effective prompts than the standard, over-used: “Sound it out.”
The benefits of running records
- Identifies accuracy of reading (independent, instructional, or hard)
- Provides a record of strategies used, errors, corrections, phrasing, fluency
- Helps teachers identify cueing systems the child is using / neglecting (meaning, visual, structural)
- Documents progress over time
- Can help determine a level for guided reading purposes (Fountas and Pinnell, Reading A-Z, DRA, etc.)
As a Reading Recovery teacher, I was able to take a running record each day for each child with whom I worked. The results helped me determine which verbal prompts and strategies I needed to emphasize – my instructional plan.
As a classroom teacher, you don’t have the luxury (or time) to do this on a daily basis. Hopefully you can find time to conduct a running record on your students (especially those who have difficulty reading) on a weekly or monthly basis. Click on how-to-do-a-running-record
BUT, here’s the good news!! Even if you can’t take a running record on a regular basis, you can practice listening to students (during your guided reading small group sessions) and learn a little bit about how they process when they read. What kind of errors are they making?
There are 3 cueing systems (sources of information) which good readers utilize to comprehend text. The goal is for readers to integrate all 3 of them.
- (M) Meaning: Is the reader thinking about what makes sense?
- (S) Structure: Is the reader paying attention to the structure (syntax and grammar) of the text? Does it sound right?
- (V) Visual: Is the reader using the visual information of the letters? Does it look right?
I will focus on (M) Meaning in Part I.
When a reader comes to a hard word, is he/she only trying to sound it out? Or are they thinking about what makes sense and sounds right? Hopefully, a little of each. A good reader looks at the letters, combined with the structure and meaning of the story to decide what that tricky word could be.
If this was the sentence in the story (supported with illustration):
“Jack and Jill had a pail of water.”
When the reader comes to pail, do they say pill or pal? – which both almost look right, but don’t make sense when using the picture for support. Do they say bucket? – which makes sense, but doesn’t look right. Or do they look at the picture, focus on the /p/ along with the /ai/ and realize it is pail? – because it makes sense, looks right, and sounds right in the sentence. Pail is another word for bucket.
How could I help this child use meaning?
If they had read the whole sentence (without attempting to self-correct it) as: Jack and Jill had a pill (or pal) of water. I might say:
- “Look at the picture. Are they holding a pill / pal?” OR,
- “Does that make sense for them to hold a pill / pal of water?” OR,
- “They are holding something, but it doesn’t look like a pill / pal.? A pill is medicine, a pal is a friend.” OR,
- “Could that word be bucket or pail?
If they had read the whole sentence (without attempting to SC it) as: Jack and Jill had a bucket of water. This child is using meaning!!! Hooray!! I might say:
- “You are right, they look like they are holding a bucket. However, when we look at the word, if it was bucket you would expect it to begin with the letter ____. Do you see that letter here?” OR,
- “What else could this word be that begins with a /p/?” OR,
- “You made it make sense because I also see them holding something like a bucket, but I know it’s not bucket because this word begins with a p. What else could it be so this word looks right?”
If there wasn’t a supporting illustration, you could also reason that pill or pal could make sense. Reading only to the point of error: Jack and Jill had a pill. Or, Jack and Jill had a pal.
Both of those DO seem to make sense and sound right. But phonetically pill and pal don’t look quite right if we use what we normally know about the sound the ai combination makes. I would have the child continue reading to the end of the sentence, then ask: “Did that make sense?” “Try that again and make it make sense. What could they have to hold water?”
Using Meaning to problem solve is the most important of the 3 cueing systems. Even if the child said “bucket” instead of “pail,” they still understood what was going on in the story. This error did not interrupt the comprehension of the text.
Do I want a child to correct all Meaning errors? No, not necessarily. It depends on the child or the complexity of the text. Suppose a child never uses meaning as a strategy and this one time (as mentioned above) they do. I would not have him/her correct it. I might not even mention it – because that was a small victory for that child. If I call attention that it was really pail and not bucket, it would probably be a little deflating for their ego.
Finally, here are some prompts the teacher can use to promote use of Meaning as a strategy.
- Did that make sense?
- Look at the picture? What is happening?
- What would make sense there?
- Try _______. Would that make sense?
- What is happening in the story?
- Cover the word. Predict what it could be.
- What do you think might happen next?
- What do you expect ______ to do/say next?
- Think about who is talking now.
- Look at the first letter and the picture. What makes sense that starts with ___?
Happy Listening!! Next time – Part 2 – Structure
Clip art courtesy of MS Office.