Running Records: Frequently Asked Questions

While browsing through various literacy Facebook Groups I have noticed similar questions asked about running records.   I started gathering questions so that I could eventually address them all in one post.

The answers I have provided come from my trusted sources: Marie Clay (the creator of running records) and Fountas & Pinnell (who provide us with much information and guidance on running records all of which is based on the work of Clay).

Here we go!  Let’s move on to the top questions I have seen regarding running records.

Is it okay to prompt a student when they are reading during a running record?

No! The running record is not the time to teach. It is time to bite your tongue, put on your neutral face and closely observe all that your student can do.  The more time we spend observing our students the more we will be able to support them.

Why do we take a running record after a student has already read the book and not on a cold read?

The running record is to inform you about your teaching and the effect your teaching is having on the child’s reading.

A “cold read” or a running record of the first read of the story (done without teaching) is meant to be done when benchmarking. This will help the teacher to form their guided reading groups.

I am confused about whether the student used meaning, structure, or both?

When thinking about meaning we should ask ourselves if what the child said is something that goes along with the story.  It is possible for the student to use meaning but not structure.  It is easy to become confused and think that because something doesn’t sound right it doesn’t make sense.  Here are a few examples:

The text:  She looked at the clown.

Example of a child using meaning but not structure:  She looking at the clown.

“Looking” matches the actions of the character in the book, but doesn’t sound right.

Example of a child using structure but not meaning:  She looked at the cake.

This sentence follows the rules of English but is not meaningful when we take into consideration that there is a clown, not cake, clearly shown in the picture.

Example of a child using both meaning and structure:  She sees…

The word “sees” sounds right here and as a substitute for “looked” makes sense in this part of the story.

If a student repeatedly reads a word incorrectly do I count each time it is missed as an error?

Yes, unless the repeated error is on a proper noun we need to count it every time. If the word is a proper noun we only count the first time it is missed as an error.  It is okay if a child read “see” for “saw” 8 times and therefore had an 88% accuracy rate.  We need to think beyond the percentage.  This error provides us with some needed information for future teaching.  We may need to work on monitoring or looking beyond the first letter.  There may be a place where the child did some fast efficient problem solving that we want to focus on so, for now, we are going to table the see/saw error.

What if my student [insert random odd error here]?

It is okay! The purpose of running records is to find patterns of errors. Isolated incidences or anomalies are not important in themselves. Looking for patterns will help us to make a decision about what source of information a reader used. We want to look for ways that a child solves words over and over and continue the work on supporting the child with building his/her processing system.

Does my student have to read the entire book?

In order to give an accurate picture of a student’s reading, Running records should be taken on a passage of text with at least 100-150 words or the entire text if less than that.

How often should I administer running records?

If we take running records once in a while or only at report card times we are only getting a small snapshot of what the child can do at that moment with that particular book.  Taking frequent running records on an on-going basis will provide us with patterns of problem-solving which allows us to address problems and provide the child with what they need for immediate improvement.

What is the difference between a reading record and a running record?

A reading record has all of the words to the text pre-printed on the recording sheet for the teacher to use as they listen to a student read.  Reading records are a part of Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention and Fountas & Pinnells’ Benchmark Assessment System.  A running record form does not include the pre-printed text.

Do I need to write down all of the attempts?

Yes, because each attempt allows us to better see the child’s process toward arriving at the final response. We can miss important monitoring and searching information when we do not document all attempts.

Is each attempt counted as an error?

No.  If I child came to the work “looked” and read “look” and then “looks” and then “looking” we would count this as one error.

Why should I take the time to take running records on my students?

See my previous post – Why are running records important?

How do I code a running record?

Coding and Scoring Error at a Glance Sheet

How do I analyze a running record?


Steps to Analyzing a Running Record

I hope that you found this post helpful in addressing your questions about running records.  I consider running records to be the most powerful tool I have in my assessment toolkit as they allow me to see how my students interact with real books in an authentic way.  When running records are used in a consist and neutral manner they will give you a wealth of information that will help you to plan for future instruction.



2 thoughts on “Running Records: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. tamijami

    HI Ladies,
    I am confused about the MSV analysis. I, too, am a trained Reading Recovery Teacher- and on the first example- I would say that the child is using V- and not meaning or structure as the word is visually similar, yet it does not make sense or sound right up to the point of error.
    The other example that leaves me confused is the cake example. I don’t recall- in my training or in my reading where- we take into account picture support in the MSV analysis- So when I analyze this- I would say that the child was using MS and even some Visual- as the words cake/clown begin the same…
    Thanks for any clarification you can give me on this.

    The text: She looked at the clown.
    Example of a child using meaning but not structure: She looking at the clown.
    “Looking” matches the actions of the character in the book, but doesn’t sound right.

    Example of a child using structure but not meaning: She looked at the cake.
    This sentence follows the rules of English but is not meaningful when we take into consideration that there is a clown, not cake, clearly shown in the picture.


    1. Hi Tami,
      It’s so great that you are grappling with this very complex idea. So many of us automatically circle both the M and S if a substitution fits one or the other. The purpose of this post was to cause us to think more deeply about what meaning and structure mean in a text.
      If a child substitutes a word that is not grammatically accurate, such as “goed” for “went,” then the child has used meaning because we can tell they meant that the character is “going somewhere,” but he is over-generalizing the past-tense -ed ending because he doesn’t yet understand the irregular past tense of, “went.” Since it’s not grammatically correct, though, we would say he has used meaning, but not structure.
      When we are analyzing an error, or a self-correction for sources of information used and neglected, we must ask ourselves if, up to the point of error, the substitution preserves the meaning of the text (Clay). That means that the substitution must fit with the *precise* message on the page and in the book. If a sentence reads, “I see a bird,” and the child reads, “I see a hippopotamus,” then the child has not used meaning since the picture does not support what the child said. This page is about a bird. Structurally it works because it is an English sentence. You will find reading behaviors along the lines of, “Searches for meaning in pictures” in Fountas and Pinnell’s Literacy Continuum. Searching the pictures for information is a behavior that we would want to encourage in the early levels of text as it is a powerful way for a child to make sense of what the text means.
      While some of our examples were visually similar in some ways, the particular section you are asking about was meant to show that just because an error is meaningful does not automatically mean it is structural, and vice versa. So, yes, the student who said cake/clown used visual information, but the example also shows that the substitution is structurally sound, but not meaningful to the precise message of the text.
      We hope this helps as you think more about analysis!

      Liked by 1 person

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