by Diane Powell, Assistant Director and Primary Grades Trainer
I’m going to share some thinking from the questions that were posed by teachers on previous Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Twitter chats and could be a help to educators everywhere. I’ll be using Marie Clay’s text An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement and Fountas & Pinnell’s The Continuum of Literacy Learning, PreK–8 as resources so you’ll know of appropriate resources to use in your continuing search for guidance around the use of Running Records. 1. Can you share strategies for helping teachers see value of Running Records as formative assessment rather than an event at the end of the term?Teachers are very busy these days and unless they understand the power of Running Records and the rationales for using them, they will see them as optional or mandated a few times per year. One thing that often helps teachers see their value is to have them follow one reader over time by capturing the reading behaviors the reader demonstrates during oral reading. Looking across records of oral reading begins to show the teacher the ways in which the reader’s processing power is changing over time. It also allows us to think about how our teaching is impacting the learning of the reader –or not. The Running Record allows us to see how the reader is using strategic actions for thinking within the text – those he is using and those he is neglecting to use. How is the reader working in a balanced way to gain meaning from a text? What does he do when he comes to an unknown word? How is the reader showing us he’s monitoring his reading? How does his reading sound with respect to aspects of fluency? How does the reader search for and use information sources to read or self-correct? How does the reader adjust his reading depending on the text and the purpose for reading? All of these kinds of information can inform our teaching and the student’s learning. Yes, it takes some time, but the teaching becomes so much more powerful based on what we find in the Running Records. Using them only occasionally is like taking only a portion of a prescription a doctor gives you – it doesn’t reach the problem to provide long lasting improvement for the reader!2. How often should readers be assessed with Running Records? How often should teachers be doing Running Records, besides benchmarking?That depends on the reader. If a reader is making steady progress in his reading, it makes sense to check in with him every 2 – 3 weeks to be sure his trajectory continues in the right direction and he’s taking on new learning as well as strengthening his reading powers. High progress readers should probably have a check in about every 4 – 6 weeks to be sure they, too, are continuing to progress.On the other hand, if the reader is reading below grade level, he needs more frequent checks. A teacher should plan on capturing a his reading every two weeks to see if any of the teaching that you’re doing is impacting his learning. If not, you need to adjust the teaching to work from the reader’s current strengths and move him forward. That’s often easier said than done and it may require help from a colleague who works with struggling readers or a coach who can see things you might be missing. Make sure you reach out for help in working with readers who are not making progress. They may be taking on the learning differently than you imagine and your teaching might be missing them where they are.3. Are Running Records taken from unseen text or previously used readers?That depends on what you’re trying to do as the teacher. If you’re forming groups for guided reading in the fall of the year, you will be using a benchmark system to see what the readers can do without teaching: where they are right now and in that case, the Running Records will be taken on unseen texts. This is also the case when you receive a new student throughout the school year. Find out what they can do without your teaching or influence and take a Running Record on an unseen text.When taking a Running Record on a seen (or previously read) text, you’re looking to see how your teaching has influenced the reader’s ability to process the text. This is the kind of Running Record teachers use regularly during the school year. The reader has had a chance to read the text previously with the support of the teacher and other readers in the group and you’re checking to see how he does without further instruction. That is the kind of information you can then use to make next steps for the reader: does the reader need to be moved to another group because his reading is moving forward quickly or because his reading is moving more slowly than the rest of the group? How can you work with the reader individually to teach him something else he needs to learn how to do after a Running Record is completed? Both kinds of Running Records are important to your teaching – what they can do without teaching and what they are able to do after your teaching.4. What level do you start taking Running Records? Is it beneficial to take them on a level AA or A or .5?I’m not sure what a AA or .5 level text is since it’s not part of our benchmarking system, but I would say that if you’re gathering readers together or reading individually with readers, you’d want to capture what their doing when they read orally. You can learn a lot about a reader by observing what they do and don’t yet do while reading. Having said that, I would want to be sure to say that we don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to move guided reading instruction down to preschool classrooms. Children in preschool classrooms need massive amounts of oral language and hands on experiences and play as part of their curriculum. If, however, you realize that a student is reading, I’d have some age/grade appropriate texts available for him to look through and learn from without the push of formal instruction. We certainly want to provide opportunities for readers to learn more about reading every time they engage with a text, but we’re not advocating guided reading with 4 year olds.5. Besides Running Records, what are some other great assessments for readers?We feel Running Records are the best assessments to capture what’s really going on with the reader. It’s authentic since it’s what readers do – read. It’s not artificial like some of the resources teachers are being asked to do to check on readers. Having said that, though, we’d certainly want to be talking with readers about what they’re reading to make sure they are understanding and/or learning from the text. Having conversations with readers lets you into their thinking beyond and about the text. It also let’s you know if anything was puzzling about what they read and if they didn’t get to the deeper understanding of the text. Once readers have had lots of experiences talking about what they’ve read, they can begin to be supported to write about their reading. That would need to be scaffolded by the teacher through modeling/demonstrating how to write about reading through contexts like interactive or modeled writing. If teachers ask readers to do this kind of work without this powerful demonstration teaching, about the only thing readers can do is retell the story – a rather surface level understanding of a story without necessarily getting to the deeper meaning of the text. And our hope is that the reader would be responding to a text, not retelling it. How do they react to the text through their experiences? It’s important that readers have the opportunity to respond to reading as they are learning to read so that they are able to do what’s being asked of them through more sophisticated standards that are currently driving our thinking.Hope I’ve been able to help you think more about the power, purposes and rationales behind running records. Keep thinking! ! !