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Teaching Tip: The power of running records

Michele Dufresne

Currently, it’s quite common for teachers to take running records to determine a student’s book level and report their progress through book levels. But running records do so much more than that. When I listen to a student read, I often take a running record on just a few pages. Any scrap of paper will do! It may be the first time a student has read the book, but I find that a running record taken on a beginning reader’s second book reading is the most telling.

Running records give you a window into a student’s processing. They help you find patterns that show how the student responds to text. Teachers can become overfocused on the errors a student’s makes. Instead, we need to concentrate on what the student notices and almost has mastered so we can support them in becoming better at processing.

If, for example, you notice several errors on a student’s running record where they use the first letter of the word and the error makes sense (such as pot for pan), that shows you what to listen for when the student reads to you.  I would say, “That makes sense and it almost looks right, but let’s look at the end of the word and see if it looks right.” Say pot slowly and run your finger under it. “Can that word be pot? No! What else would make sense and look right?”

The next time you teach a guided reading lesson, select one student to take a running record with on the following day. Ask the student to read a few pages of the book. You don’t need to use a fancy form, score it, or count the errors! Simply look for common mistakes to see if there is a pattern to the student’s difficulties. Follow up the running record with a bit of teaching. Be specific with praise and show the student how to do something that helps them read better. There’s no need to help the student get everything right. If they are not noticing errors, teach them how to check errors. If they are having trouble breaking apart larger words, show them how to break a word into parts. If they are not reading for meaning, then help them think about the story. Taking a running record followed by some teaching should only take a few minutes and can make a powerful change in your student’s processing.