In the past I was a strong proponent of running records. I used them every day as a first and second grade classroom teacher, and as an online educator I’ve often promoted their use.
I felt that a running record – a visual representation of a child’s reading – was a wonderful tool to see exactly where readers were struggling and to know where to take them next.
But now that I’ve adopted a more structured approach to early literacy (after my research into how the brain learns to read), I believe we must reconsider running records.
Running records are still popular today
Many teachers are required to administer running records, and many choose them all on their own (I did!).
They use the results to group children for reading instruction and to guide students to a particular level when they read independently.
Should we still be using running records?
Why I didn’t want to let go of running records
And I did! I used them daily during conferences when I listened to individual readers. I used these informal running records to get a quick visual of my students’ errors.
I could also get a quick picture of how fluently my students were reading. And when they answered questions about the text, I could jot down notes about their comprehension on the back of the page.
Why we should reconsider running records
It does not give me pleasure to reconsider running records. I LOVED them.
The biggest issue that I see is the way that running records require us to analyze “miscues” (errors) using the three-cueing system: meaning, syntax, and visual cues.
The idea with running records is that we are to note whether students made a meaning, grammar, or phonics error when reading.
The problem with this is that we now know that the brain learns to read by connecting phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters), not by using meaning or grammar cues to solve words.
(See podcast episode 37: How the brain learns to read)
If we are giving kids text with words whose sound-spelling patterns we’ve taught them, they won’t need to use pictures or context to solve words.
And we shouldn’t want them to.
Novice readers need to focus on matching sounds to letters and sequences of letters so that they can literally identify words and begin to store then in their brain for instantaneous retrieval, i.e. “map” them orthographically.Breaking the Code
Do you see the issue? If you are teaching kids to sound out words using the phonics patterns you’ve explicitly taught, then that is what you should be measuring … not whether they are using context or other clues to solve words.
If your school teaches reading using a phonics program, measuring progress with this tool is a total mismatch.Jocelyn Seamer Education
Traditional running records don’t tell us what we truly need to know
What you really need to know is how proficient your readers are with phonemic awareness. A running record can’t tell you that. (Try the free PAST Test instead.)
What you really need to know is how solid your students’ phonics skills are. A traditional running record only has columns for meaning, syntax, and visual cues … not a place to analyze specific decoding errors. Use an assessment that comes with your phonics program, or this free one.
What you really need to know is whether or not your learner is reading at an appropriate rate. While reading rate doesn’t determine whether or not a child is a strong reader, a low rate can be an indicator of other issues. I recommend Acadience Reading (it’s free!).
Should we throw running records away?
Even if that were my recommendation, you may not have a choice. Let’s discuss how to make running records into a useful tool.
First, make sure that the text you use matches what would be used in a solid instructional approach.
Instead of assessing student reading on leveled text that requires the use of pictures and context clues, assess the reading of a quality decodable text that features sound-spelling correspondences you’ve taught.
Instead of marking whether students attended to meaning, syntax, or visual cues, note specifically what decoding errors were made.
Is the reader solving CVC words fluently? Or is s/he mixing up short o and short u?
Is the reader struggling with specific high frequency words that could use extra attention?
Is the reader using what you’ve taught about solving multi-syllable words?
Make other helpful notes in the margin.
Is the reader jumping to the pictures first when solving words? This is valuable information, because you’ll want to correct it. Make a note.
Is the reader sounding out words incorrectly and not self-correcting, even when it doesn’t make sense? Make a note.
Is the reader neglecting to read with attention to punctuation marks? Make a note.
Can the reader answer your questions after the reading? Make a note.
If you have the time, I believe that sitting and listening to a child read one-on-one is invaluable.
While I no longer believe that the traditional running record is a good assessment tool, an adjusted running record form could be useful.
You just need to know what text to use, what to listen for, and how to use your observations to address concerns.
Quotes in this post
- Jocelyn Seamer Education – Time to Break up with Running Records
- Breaking the Code – Why Running Records and Leveled Readers Don’t Mix with Phonics
Thanks! As my school’s dyslexia specialist, I was always a little dumbfounded as to why the running records and my data were so frequently mismatched. Now I have some data to back up my research!
I’m so glad this was helpful, Jennifer!
I’m required to do running records for report cards in order to determine each student’s reading level. I wish we didn’t have to do this, as I’ve heard reading level is not the best indicator of reading ability. Is there a better way of doing this than using the F&P leveled readers I was provided?
So this is really tough, Brianna! Especially because reading level doesn’t really say much about kids as readers in those early “levels.” I don’t think it’s possible to actually find the level without using F & P leveled books, because it’s their leveling system. One thing you might consider is using an adjusted running record from Nell Duke, which gives more information (that’s actually useful). I haven’t used it myself, but you can learn more here: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-now/2020/10/27/observing-young-readers-and-writers-a-tool-for-informing-instruction
Thank you, Anna! I haven’t seen this before, so I am excited to dive in and explore it. Nell Duke is widely respected.
This is such an important post. Thank you for laying it out so clearly. Have you repurposed the Running Record form? Just curious if this is already a resource out there, or if I should work on one for myself. Thank you!
Hi Erin! I haven’t studied this myself, but I’ve heard good things about this resource from Nell Duke: https://www.nellkduke.org/listening-to-reading-protocol
Nell Duke has a great alternative: https://www.nellkduke.org/listening-to-reading-protocol
Thank you for your honesty and commitment to do what we know is best for all learners rather than what feels good or fun. I also have shifted my teaching based on what years of research and science has proven to be the most effective approach to developing readers. Let’s hope teacher preparation programs follow suit sooner than later!
Thank you! I love that you also gave some great alternatives to running records. I started using the CORE Phonics survey this year- focusing on the phonemic surveys (sentence, syllable and word segmentation). It was super helpful. I also combined that data with listening to their reading and Words Their Way (I hadn’t used that in almost 20 years!) spelling inventory. It feels SO much more informative to my teaching than a RR ever did!
Thank you, Wendi! I do have the CORE assessment spiral bound booklet; I haven’t studied it yet. I will have to share those in this blog post as soon as I have the chance. Thanks for that! It’s great to hear all the ways you’re getting good data!
I agree! That makes so much sense!
Thanks so much for your feedback, Carol!