Saturday, May 2, 2015

Don't Hide From Running Records

I know that the one thing that drove me totally nuts, when I first started guided reading, was running records. The kids read faster than I could write! I couldn't remember the symbols! And when, oh when to fit it in??? 

The following is not the know-all, do-all running records information. It's the information that worked for me. There are classes and even books (Yes, whole BOOKS...OMG!) written on running records. I just can't deal with that. It has to be easy, it has to be fast. Assessment is important, but so is teaching. For me, running records has to be quick and reliable, so that I can get to the important job of teaching. The information below has helped me do that. 

What are Running Records?  
They are just a short way to assess at what level your student is reading. It's a guide to help you know what the student knows, and what she needs to learn next.

Where to start:
If you are using guided reading in your district, you probably have materials for running records. If you don't, it's not that hard to make your own. Choose one story in each reading level that you need to test. Don't use that story for anything else but running record selections. That's because at some point you will have a student who needs more than two attemps at passing a reading level. If you have a book already selected for that reading level, it's easy enough to select another reading section to use if needed. 

Choose a 100-150 word selection from the story to use as the running record. Type out the selection you want to use. (level it by grade and month with either Okapi Readability or any other readability index).  This will let you know if your selection is a beginning, middle or end of that particular readability level. When I used a readability index I used: (for example for the third grade reading level) 3.0-3.3 for beginning of the reading level, 3.4-3.6 for middle and 3.7-4.0 for end of the reading level. I always needed to go to at least sixth grade for my third graders, and often had to have some for first as well.Then copy it in single space with larger text for the kids to read, and do one in double space for you to use. That will give you space to make notes. I have also used the freebie at the end of the post to do running records. I like it because everything is on the page that I need. Whatever works for you is fine. To save time in future years, I copied two different selections from the chosen story. That would give me a second one to use in case the student failed the first time, and needed to retest on that reading level. Keep the book in the folder as well, in case a student needs a third, or even fourth attempt at that level. I copied three or four of each student copy, and a bunch of each for me. I then put all copies in a file folder under the reading level it tested. It takes time the first year, but is super simple from there on. By the time I was done I had a folder for first grade level beginning, one for middle and one for end, second grade beginning, middle, end and so on with each reading level I might need.

 It is advised that you do running records every four to six weeks, but I think you can't fatten a pig by weighing it. My goal was to get in at least four whole-class running records by the end of the year. There are those who would faint at this, but it kept me sane. That's a big deal (for me). If a student needs a running record for any reason, it can always be done on a "need" basis.  

Organizing does not come easy to me...not even a little. However, it is really important to keep running records organized in a file folder box, or in a file cabinet. 

Each student will also need his or her own running record file to keep track of what was passed and failed, and to see how many attempts were needed to pass each level, as well as dates attempted. This is great material for conferences. If you have a student that needs psychological testing, this is perfect documentation.

At the middle and end of each year, I would show students their folders and talk about how much they have grown in reading. Low readers don't realize how much they have grown, and literally have to see it on paper. Part of their problem is that they don't see the progress, even when it is there. It must be shown to them for them to believe it. If you do student led conferences, this documentation is vital (I highly recommend these conferences). I did a guest blog post for Rachel Lennett on it at: Make A Real Impact On Student Learning) It includes a great freebie to start you with the process as well. 

Doing the Running Record
You can do running records in two ways. Either fit one or two running records in during guided reading time, or replace guided reading with running records for a day or two. 
If you replace guided reading with running records, the rest of the kids do a center that is just for their guided reading group. Add two or three books, worksheets and give writing assignments for each group at their guided reading center. All directions, and what to do first, second and so on are posted at the center. When they complete all assignments, they can have free reading time...which they love! This is a great time for re-reading past guided reading books. Use the proceedure that keeps you sane. Some teachers go crazy if they have to do running records and guided reading at the same time. Take a breath! 

1. Assemple all supplies you need. If this is the first test of the year, I look at last years testing results to determine where to start. Many programs give vocabulary lists to test, but this has not worked for me. I end up starting too high or way too low. Last year's work has proven to be the best predictor of what grade level I should start testing with to determine reading level. I want to give as few running record assessments as I can to find the instructional level. I keep the box with all blank running records materials beside me.

2. Have a pen, calculator, your running record photocopy of the 100-150 word selection and the book or sheet the student will be reading.

3. Talk about the title of the story and discuss briefly what it is about (i.e.. This text is about a boy with a big problem.)

4. Show the student where you would like him to start and stop reading. Ask the student to read the selection to himself and let you know when he is finished. Do not give any assistance with words.

5. Write the student's name on your running record copy.

6. When the student has finsihed reading silently, ask him to retell the part of the story that was read. The retelling should be well organized and have detail. It should hit the main points and capture the meaning. Those who didn't quite get the meaning will list unconnected events and lack focus. Ask a couple of probling questions. Note your observations on the record sheet at the bottom or back of the page. A good retelling as 100%, slight confusion is 80% and anything less is not comprehending the text. Less than 80% comprehension would put the student at frustration level, and an easier level should be given. This is true even if the child can "word call" the words easily. Word calling is not understanding. I have had students who could word call at two levels above third grade, but not understand any of it. This isn't reading. 

7. Ask the student to read the selection out loud. As he reads fill out your running record using the shorthand as listed below. By the way, this is when you really understand why it is called a "running" record. You have to run to keep up !  These are the main codes I used:

Correct Words: It is recommended that a checkmark be put above every word read correctly. I tried this for a long time, and it about drove me nuts. I started leaving the correctly read words alone and only noted the problems encountered, and I have to say it simplified my life! 

Substitution: If a child substitutes one word for another, write the substituted word above the text word and underline it.

Omission: Draw a line above the word omitted

Insertion: If a student adds a word that isn't there, make a carrot and write the substituted word above the carrot.

Told by Teacher: If the student can not continue unless you give the word, write a "T" above that word. Only do this if the child can not continue and just stops. 

Repitition: The child rereads a phase more than once: Write an R after the repeated word or phase and draw an arrow back to the beginning of the repetition.

Self-Corrections: When a student self-corrected himself write  "SC" above the word. This is NOT counted as an error.

There are more codes, but these are simple, and help get you started without being overwhelming. 
At the bottom of your form write any additional habits the student has while reading, such as using his finger as he reads, pulling at his hair etc. A running record is meant to give not only the error count, but a window into how a student is reading.

Count as one error:
told by the teacher

Do not count:
self-corrections (note these, but they are not counted) 
words promounced differently because of a child's accent

Never correct a student for errors during running records. This is a time to record only. 

Determining the instructional Reading level:
Determining the instructional reading level is finding a combination of both correct reading of the words, and understanding of what is read. They go together.

The goal of running records is to find a student's instructional reading level. There are lots of opinions out there about what constitutes this. However, most opinions differ by only a point or two. Once you have determed the percentage of errors to words, this is the guide I go by to find the instructional level:

97%-100% correct, questions about the text are answered correctly, understanding is complete. This is the level that is perfect for independent reading.

92%-96% correct, 80% comprehension. This is the perfect level to grow vocabulary, strategies and comprehension. THIS is the guided reading level you are looking for.

91% or lower correct, or comprehension less that 80%. This is the frustration level. Research has shown that little is gained and much can be lost if a student is being instructed at his or her frustration level. 

To find the percentage of word accuracy, take the numeober of words that were correctly read, and divide by the number of total words in the selection. This percentage, and the comprehension level, tells you if you have found the instructions level or not. Remember that perfect word-calling without comprehension is not reading. 

Below is the guided reading form I liked the best. If it will help you, you can download it in I type up the text on the computer, turn the form upside down in the copy tray and copy the text onto the form. The student sheet will have only the text, with a larger font. The student sheet can be used again and again with different students. Your sheet is specific to each student.

Well! This has been a long one! There are many, many sites out there that can give you much more information on running records! Once you have done it once or twice, you'll be ready to add even more into your routine (without losing your mind!)

This is the second in my series about guided reading. You may want to check out the other titles below.


  1. We don't count repetition as an error. Do you count it wrong even if the words were read correctly?

    1. No! Not at all!! I keep track of repetitions only. I want to know if a student is increasing repetitions over time, or if repetitions are become continuous and interfering with comprehension. If they greatly increase in number over time, it could signal that reading is becoming stressful for a student. I want documentation about that. This would be unusual, but I’ve seen it happen.

  2. I do count it as an error, as the reader was unable to continue without the repetition. I see it as an error because it is something to work on if the student does it consistently. Fluency is taking a "hit" with repetitions, so it may mean the student needs to work on smoother reading and avoiding the urge to repeat. Sometimes kids do it as a habit, sometimes it's to get meaning they may have missed. If it is a rare behavior, I don't worry about it. If it happens every time the student reads aloud, then it is also happening when he reads silently. That's something that needs practice. Is it a big problem? I don't think so, but it can be a sticking point a reader just doesn't need to endure. It's easy to correct, by urging the reader to read a selection straight through, even if he wants to repeat. It's a practice thing. That's my point of view anyway. I hope that's helpful.

  3. I have just discovered
    With this you could video record the reader reading his/her running record piece. So a lovely piece of evidence as well. The you can refer back to the video to do the codes for your running record. It would making it a "walking" record instead!! :)