George Lucas Educational Foundation
Formative Assessment

7 Tips to Make Running Records Manageable and Useful


Guided reading is the perfect opportunity to differentiate instruction for each student. Running records are a formative assessment and are one way to document teacher observations of reading behaviors. The process of conducting a running record includes the teacher taking notes on the student's errors and corrections when he or she is orally reading a leveled text. From this data, teachers can plan lessons to meet the needs of students and collect data to show growth over time. However, the process of taking running records and analyzing the data can be overwhelming. The following tips can help make running records manageable and useful to the very busy classroom teacher.

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1. Create a Schedule

A schedule will allow consistent data collection for all students. In the younger elementary grades, students can move though guided reading levels very quickly, so it is important to have timely data. Creating a schedule where each student has a day of the week will allow almost every student to have a running record each week.

2. Understand Cuing Systems and Their Relation to Errors

By understanding the cuing systems (as described by Marie M. Clay), teachers are able to pinpoint the feedback necessary to help students decrease their errors and improve their comprehension.

Was the error visual? If it was a visual error, then the student needs to focus on meaning while reading. To help the student, orally repeat the error and ask him or her if that made sense.

Sometimes students are using two cuing systems when they make an error. For example, a student might substitute a word that makes sense and is grammatically correct. In this case, they are using meaning and syntax while reading, but need to focus on the visual aspect of the words.

3. Provide Immediate Feedback

Completing your running record is an opportunity to conference with the student and provide feedback. This is the perfect time to praise students for self-correcting or using the strategies they have been taught. It is also important to look at an error with the student and provide feedback. Having a quick conference after the running record provides direction and lets the student know the strategies he or she should use while reading.

4. Keep a Data Notebook

The goal of the data notebook should be to show student growth. All students should have their own section that includes their running records. Over time, the data notebook should show evidence that a student's accuracy is improving. Also there should be more self-corrections and other evidence that students are applying the strategies and feedback they have been taught.

5. Include Comprehension Questions

Accuracy is important in reading, but if the students do not understand what they are reading, then highest-accuracy scores are not relevant. By asking a couple of comprehension questions at the end of a running record, teachers can immediately begin to implement comprehension interventions.

"Tell me about what you just read" is a quick prompt to see if students understood the text. This is also the perfect opportunity for asking higher-level questions to determine if students are able to make inferences, evaluate text, and make deep connections. Here are some comprehension prompts assessing for higher-level thinking that can be applied to a variety of texts:

  • Why was the setting important?
  • What clues let you know how the character felt?
  • How would the book be different if it was written from the perspective of a different character?
  • What evidence can you find that shows _______?
  • What conclusions can you draw from this selection?

6. Evaluate the Strategies Being Taught

When looking at a running record, a question to ask yourself is: "Are the strategies that I'm teaching being applied?"

The running record should document a student's transfer of knowledge. If you have been teaching the students a specific strategy to help them when they encounter an unknown word, a running record will provide concrete evidence of application. For example, if you have been teaching students to switch the vowel sound (long/short) if the word doesn't sound correct, and a student substitutes "lick" for "like" during a running record ("I lick my bike"), then in this example they are not applying the strategy. It might be time to focus on another cuing system to help the student.

7. Set Goals with Students

When conferencing with students, it is important for them to know what is expected of them at different guided reading levels. Setting goals is one way to help students take ownership of their learning. They can set end-of-the-year reading goals, as well as benchmark goals with the teacher.

As a part of this process, discuss with them the strategies they will need to integrate in their reading if they are going to be successful and continue to grow. By having a dedicated page in the running record notebook that documents the overall goals and quarterly or monthly benchmarks, as well as strategies the students will need to meet these benchmarks, both students and teachers will know the expected outcomes. This way, not only can students chart their progress, they also know that they have a roadmap to help them succeed.

Do you use running records with your students? What are your strategies for tracking their reading progress?