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Discover How to Effectively Use Running Record Assessments with Primary Students

Have you ever used running record assessments to see inside your student’s mind? Wouldn’t it be great to get insight into what a student does when he/she reads?  Well, running records are a way to get a glimpse of what your student is doing and thinking about when they’re reading. While this assessment has been around for a while, I’ve adapted how I use it.

Passages for running records can come from a variety of sources

In this post, I’m going to explain to you what running records are and show you how to use them without overburdening you. You will be able to quickly identify each student’s reading behaviors. Through this different lens,  you are empowered to create specific lessons targeted to help them grow as readers.  Of all the different types of reading assessments available,  running records gives teachers the most valuable information to help their students improve as readers. 

Now, before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to do a running record, or if you’re brand new to running records and want to know how to use them in your classroom, then I’ve got just the thing!

You can become a running records guru with my FREE Cheat Sheets: How to Do a Running Record With Any Text. This guide will demystify running records assessments. It provides practical tips and running record blank forms you can use right away. To get your own copy,  click here to get started and become the effective teacher of reading you always wanted to be. 

As a primary teacher, my classroom was filled with students of various reading abilities. Can you relate? A one-size-fits-all program wasn’t meeting the needs of all my students. Some students were doing just fine. They were acing the program assessments and reading at or above grade level. I could tell that they were ready for more, but how much more? 

Other students weren’t doing well on their reading assignments or tests. They appeared capable learners, but they were struggling.  I could sense there was a disconnect. I wasn’t quite sure what was getting in their way. I needed more insight than a percentage on a comprehension test. I wanted to unlock the mystery of why that student was struggling. And that’s why I fell in love with running records. 

What Is a Running Record?

A running record is simply a way of recording everything a student says and does while reading a passage aloud to the teacher. This type of this assessment was first developed by Marie Clay. Her work focused on helping struggling readers early in their literacy development. Many primary teachers use data from running records to determine a student’s instructional reading level.

However, for me, the best information came from analyzing the different reading behaviors of the student.  The recording form let me notice which reading strategies they were using. I documented what a child did when they came across a word they were unsure of. I circled if they blew through punctuation marks. I wrote notes about if they read fluently or were choppy. Did they read with expression or sound like a robot?

Why Should I STILL Use Running Record Assessments?

  • To observe the student’s decoding strategies
  • To make informed decisions for instruction – next steps
  • To determine if a student is applying a specific skill
  • You can also observe fluency – does the child repeat words, pause often, or read too quickly.

Who Should I Use Running Records With?

  • Running records data is most effective when used with developing readers and those who are not yet reading fluently. 
  • Students who have difficulty with independent reading assessments are another candidate for using a running record assessment. Have the child read the passage to you so you can observe how they are tackling the assignment.
  • They also are an informative tool to use when you get a new student. 
Two children choose appropriate books according to their running record score
How can you determine which reading strategies to teach?

When is the Best Time to Give Running Record Assessments?

There are a few key times when taking a Running Record on a student provides valuable information. It isn’t something you must do every week. Here are the best times:

  • At the start of the school year
  • Before organizing book clubs or small group instruction
  • During a 1-1 student conference
  • Prior to intervention meetings
  • Prior to parent-teacher conferences
  • To progress monitor a reading skill or strategy

According to researchers, running records have been proven reliable when utilized with a minimum of three passages. (Fawson, et al, 2006) What this means is, don’t make assumptions on just one running record. Also, for your own sanity, don’t try to do all three passages in one sitting.

What Do I Need to Give a Running Record?

 You don’t need any fancy tools for progress monitoring to give a running record. Passages for running records can come from a variety of sources

All you need is a short passage or a couple of pages from a book for the student to read. The story or passage should be new to the student. This is referred to as a cold read. 

A book and a running record blank form are the tools for progress monitoring
You don’t need any fancy tools for progress monitoring.

Next, you need paper to document what the student says while reading aloud. Some teachers use sticky notes that can be easily added to a student’s folder. Some programs have a prepared recording form for teachers. The text is printed on the page that is separate from the student’s page. If you would like a recording form that can be used with any story, you can grab it here.

3 steps for how to do running records
3 Steps for How to Do Running Records

How Do I Code the Student’s Behaviors?

As the child reads, everything they say is documented. Now, before you panic, there are codes and symbols to make this process easier. Words read correctly get a checkmark. If a word is skipped, you draw a line through the word. If the child substitutes a word for the actual word, you want to write the word they said above the written word. This notation is VERY insightful when you analyze their errors. 

You’ll love my cheat sheets which explain other running record coding symbols. You can download them for free.

How Do I Calculate Their Reading Level?

Some teachers use a student’s reading accuracy to determine whether a text is easy, appropriate, instructional, or frustrating. 

In order to generalize this information to other reading materials, it is important to know the reading level of the running record passage. There are several

leveled reading systems. The most popular ones are Fountas Pinnell Guided Reading Levels, DRA leveled reading, Reading Recovery,  and Lexile Framework. Be aware that each system has its own leveled reading levels.  I have a leveled reading correlation chart here to help it make more sense.

To calculate the accuracy percentage, you will need to count the total number of words read minus the number of errors the student made. Then you take that number and divide it by the total number of words read. Multiply that number by 100 to get a percentage.

4 ways to use a running record score to decide which reading strategies to teach
Use the running record assessment data to decide which reading strategies to teach.

What Do I Do With the Information?

You have an accuracy percentage and documentation of reading behaviors. So now what? The next steps depend upon your goals. 

  • Do you want to determine which reading strategies to teach?
  • Are you ready to form small groups based on similar needs?
  • Do you want to decide the best activities for small group reading instruction?
  • Are you helping a student find appropriate books for independent reading time?
  • Do you want to provide additional fluency practice to that student?
A woman holding a book to model teachers should use data on students to decide which reading strategies to teach
Now that you are aware of the issues, it’s time to prescribe the right instruction.

Data isn’t helpful if all it does is sit in a file folder. Think of yourself as a reading doctor. You have diagnosed problems, and now it’s time to prescribe lessons to improve the reading health of the child.

Are You Ready to Give it a Go?

If after reading this you want to give running records assessments a try, you can grab my Running Records Cheat Sheets. They include all the forms you need to get started as well as student bookmarks.

running record blank form, a running records coding sheet, and how to calculate a running record score.
These forms include running record codes, a running record blank form, and how to calculate a running record score.

I loved sharing with you the amazing opportunities to better understand your students and help them grow as readers. 

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Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments section below. I promise I read every one of them and will reply.

  • Thank you for all you do!

  • Alison Monk

    When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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  • Erin March 10, 2022 at 12:51 PM

    Thank you! I am a transition to teaching student/mom/wife and this site is wonderful!

  • Deann Marin February 20, 2022 at 4:25 PM

    This is such a helpful post about running records and assessments, a must have for all teachers, especially those in primary grades who teach reading. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • […] Pingback: Discover How to Effectively Use Running Record Assessments with Primary Students – The Literacy Gard… […]

  • Andrea January 22, 2022 at 7:16 AM

    This is such an informative post about running records, the importance of understanding where a child’s reading level is at, and what can be done to help. Plus very useful links. Thank you.

    • Alison January 24, 2022 at 3:55 PM

      Thank you Andrea! I hope you enjoy your Running Record Cheat Sheets too!

    Leave a Reply

    Hi! I'm Alison

    My #1 passion is all things literacy! I'm a curriculum creator and literacy specialist with over 30 years teaching in elementary classrooms. My goal is to share creative and engaging ways to grow your students and are easy to implement and academically sound. You can expect to find teaching tips to boost your confidence and grow your learners. You don't have to do this alone! I'm the support you've been looking for. I'm so glad you are here!

    About the Literacy Garden

    When I started teaching, I quickly realized that student teaching didn't prepare me for the real challenges of being alone in a classroom full of young children. The learning curve was steep and time was limited. That is why I created the Literacy Garden. My hope is this will be a place for inspiration, mentoring, and connecting.

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