Deeply Analyzing Tolds is a Game Changer

I have been very excited to write this post because I have seen a significant difference in the effectiveness of my teaching by analyzing my students’ Tolds.  I have recently read and looked at resources regarding giving students a Told during their running record. I have been taking running records for 20+ years and know that it is a red flag to see many Tolds, but I am going to be honest and admit that until recently I did not realize the importance of taking a closer look at the categories of Tolds in my running records.

First, let me start off with sharing with you the resources that got me thinking more about the different types of Tolds:

  • Activating Teaching: Using Running Records to Inform Teaching Decisions by Mary Fried (Journal of Reading Recovery)

Through the Clemson University resources, you can view a conversation that Maryann McBride and C.C. Bates have on corrective and preemptive Tolds.

Corrective Tolds – A Told given when a child makes an incorrect response and does not appeal.

ex.       a/the  T

Preemptive Tolds – A told give before the child appeals.

ex.     /went    T

Corrective and preemptive Tolds are often given because the teacher is concerned that the child will keep missing a particular word that is repeated throughout the book. We want the child to have accurate responses in each future encounters with that word.

Let’s be honest…we’ve all fallen into this trap of given a child a Told before they appeal or with an incorrect response and no appeal.  I know I have!  Recognizing the issues with this can help us change to change our mindset.

Here is an example of a learning opportunity that I would have “stolen” if I had given a Told on a high-frequency word in order to improve the accuracy rate.  While my student was reading The Farm Concert (Joy Cowley) she read the word “said” for “went” six times.  She did not appeal to me or show any signs that she was uncomfortable with that substitution.

Do you know what happened the seventh time she came to the word “went”?  She read “said”, stopped, said, “w-w-w-went”, looked at me, flipped back a page, found went, and said, “Ohhhhh, these all said ‘went’.” Think about how powerful that is in comparison to me giving a told the first time she read “said” for “went”. Her discovery made went memorable enough that for the rest of the story, she slowed down each time she came to “went” and read it accurately.

I would much rather have a lower accuracy rate and the opportunity to capitalize on that monitoring AND self-correcting that was done than a higher accuracy rate and a skewed perception of what my student is able to do independently.  McBride reminds teachers to put the value on the processing and partially correct responses NOT on accurate reading.

This has led me to be much more picky about when to give a Told.

Mary Fried emphasizes the importance of not only counting the number of Tolds but also doing a deeper analysis of the types of Tolds given. Tolds are broken down into the following categories:

No Attempt/No action:  Fried refers to this as the “danger zone”.  Students are not initiating problem-solving. This is something we need to address right away at early levels. Students need to now that they are responsible for attempting an unknown word.

Limited action: The student might make 1 or more sounds in the word, make a word substitution, or reread before the told.

Multiple actions: The child flexibly uses different sources of information to attempt problem-solving.

Through Fried’s study on the number of Tolds, she found the “analysis suggests that the more Tolds a student gets or needs over time and text levels, the less likely that student is to reach average or above average in reading achievement. The least amount of Tolds, the more likely the student is to have a robust, problem-solving system in use while reading” (p. 10).

When I read this quote, it made me wonder about the types of Tolds my past students have had. I decided to take a closer look at past running records to see if I noticed any patterns in my teaching (or lack of) that could help with my current students.  I chose 6 students who progressed slowly and 6 students who had accelerated progress all from the last five years.  All 12 students started with similar observation survey scores. I pulled out 10 running records at similar points in time across their lesson series. I am going to be a bit vulnerable here and show you what I found so you can see how much this helped me to get more insight into my teaching.

What do you notice when you compare these two tables?

slow progress


Here is what I noticed:

  • You can easily see that the average number of Tolds per student is higher with the slower progressing students.
  • The students making slower progress had many more appeals without attempts throughout their program.  When I looked closer at the appeals w/out attempts for students 2 and 3 who made accelerated progress these types of Tolds were all most all early in their program.
  •  When attempting, both the slow-progressing students and accelerated students mostly made limited attempts before being given a Told and were less likely to make multiple attempts using various sources of information.
  • Overall, the slower progressing students had far more Tolds on high-frequency words in comparison to the faster progressing students. I do notice that two of my accelerated progress students are also on the higher side.

You may notice more patterns. Feel free to share if you do.

You might be wondering how this has changed my teaching with my current students.

  • I do not give preemptive or corrective Tolds in order to have a more accurate picture of my student’s reading.
  • I am paying closer attention to the types of Tolds given because Tolds can give me insight as to what I need to teach next. I am including information about Tolds in my summary at the top of my running records. Every week, I am looking across the last 3-5 running records to look for patterns with the types of Tolds given. At the end of Fried’s article, she includes a Quality Check of Running Records for Activating Teaching table that can be used to categorize Tolds to look for patterns.
  • I am paying closer attention to Tolds, errors and self-corrections with high-frequency words. I keep track of which high-frequency words are missed and self-corrected and also how I am addressing these words.  Sometimes I think, “why is Sally still having so many self-corrections with that word. We have worked on it so many times.” When I look over my notes I notice that we really have not worked on extending that high-frequency word it as much as I thought, especially if I am working on over-learning of a word.
  • Once a student is regularly attempting unknown words I am showing them how to use another source of information to make another attempt. I am also waiting longer during the running record to give the student more time to make multiple attempts.

You really need to check out the resources listed above! I would love to hear about the patterns you notice with your Tolds when looking at your own students’ running records.










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