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“If there is one single task that stands up better than any other observation task, it is the running record of text reading. This is a neutral observation task, capable of use in any system of reading, and recording progress on whatever gradient of text difficulty has been adopted by the education system.”
(M. Clay, 1993, An Observation Survey)
“Most assessment systems are out of balance, with standardized tests dominating. …no single assessment can meet everyone’s information needs… To maximize student success, assessment must be seen as an instructional tool for use while learning is occurring and as an accountability tool to determine if learning has occurred. Because both purposes are important, they must be in balance.”
(National Education Association of the United States, 2003, Balanced Assessment)
If standardized assessments are driven by the politics of accountability to “document the achievement status” of individual students or student groups at a particular point in time, then classroom assessments must serve a different purpose to provide balance.
Assessment for Learning is the notion that effective classroom assessments can increase that achievement by using its results to “support each student’s specific learning, regardless of where the student falls along an achievement continuum” (NEA, 2003, p6).
A Running Record (or modified miscue analysis) is when a student reads out loud and the teacher records every error made on a duplicate copy of the text. It is an important assessment tool for several reasons:
- First, it allows the teacher to identify an appropriate reading level for the student.
- Second, it reveals how well a student is self-monitoring their reading.
- Finally, it identifies which reading strategies a student is using (or not using).
Running Records allow teachers to run an assessment-driven, differentiated program that targets the specific needs of their students.
What are Running Records?
- Goodman (1969) introduced the idea of miscues as more than just “oral reading errors”, but a way to understand children’s existing reading strategies and to help them learn more effective new strategies. Goodman’s miscue analysis required a technical knowledge of linguistic concepts and long subsequent analysis.
- A Running Record is a teacher adaptation to run a miscue analysis in the busy reality of the classroom (Clay, 1985). PM Benchmarks is an example of a commercial resource that offers a graduated level of reading texts to use for running records. Although primarily designed and used with young children, a running record can provide important information for the Intermediate teacher.
Informal Reading Inventories
- Robb (2000) argues that running records are appropriate for students “who are at the emergent and beginning stages of reading” or read with poor fluency, but recommends using a reading inventory to complete a modified miscue analyis of intermediate students’ oral reading.
- Informal Reading Inventories are similar to running records. They consist of graded word lists (to determine sight vocabulary – Word Recognition) and graded story passages (to determine literal and inferential comprehension – Comprehension.)
Informal Reading Inventories are typically given to all students in the fall and again in the Spring if possible to note growth and change (Cohen & Wiener, 2003). In comparison, Running Records are administered more frequently to guide instruction.
Why we use this tool (Theoretical Background)
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky (Mind in Society, 1978) coined the term “zone of proximal development” as the level of difficulty between what a learner can do independently and what they can do with support.
- Students working below the zone will not learn as much because the work is too easy.
- Students working above the zone will not benefit as much because the text is too hard. “When the text is too hard, comprehension is simply impossible.” (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996b, p156)
- Students working in the zone will experience the most growth because they are working at the cutting edge of their zone of learning. (Au, Carroll & Scheu, 1997)
The goal is to have students reading in the zone. A running record / miscue analysis allows us to identify what level students are reading at in order to have students reading texts that are just right.
How this tool helps with Instructional Decisions
Running Records allows teachers to make data-based decisions to guide whole-class instruction (using modeled or shared reading), small-group instruction (guided reading), and to ensure students are reading appropriately challenging texts during independent reading.
Miscue analysis allows you to run a targeted and differentiated program:
- Identify particular difficulties that a student might be having. (Assessment for Learning)
- Aid in the creation of homogeneous guided reading groups. (Differentiated instruction)
- Monitor the progress of a student.
- Allow different students to move at different speeds. (Differentiated growth)
- Provides assessment and evaluation data for reporting purposes.
How we use this tool
Both the teacher and the student have a copy of a levelled text. As the student reads out loud, the teacher makes notes on their copy of the text. Every error is recorded and a standardized set of conventions are used to record miscues. Questions are usually asked at the end to gauge comprehension. A miscue analysis should take about 10 minutes. (See appendix for instructions.)
Text samples are typically between 100 to 200 words. It is suggested that a student read from several different levels of texts: an easy text (95-100% correct), an instructional text (90-94% correct), and a hard text (80-89% correct). These three samples can provide insights into a students’ strengths (using easier texts) and weaknesses (using more difficult texts) (Clay, 1985).
A miscue analysis can determine the level of text the student should be reading, whether they are self-monitoring when they read, and they kinds of decoding strategies they use.
1. Identify an appropriate reading level (Accuracy Rate)
Miscues (word reversals, substitutions, extra words, rpetitions, or omissions) are counted as errors. If the student self-corrects the mistake, it is not counted as an error. Accuracy is calculated using the following formula:
Reading level is determined using the following guideline: Independent Level (95% or more), Instructional Level (90% to 94%) and Too Difficult (Below 90%). If a student can decode a text, but not answer the comprehension questions, an easier levelled text is used until the student comprehends.
In comparison, when conducting an informal reading inventory, the following levels are used:
Informal Reading Inventory
(spelling word list)
95% or more
90% to 94%
2. Identify how well a student is self monitoring while reading (Self Correction Rate)
Calculate the self-correction rate using the following formula:
Self correction rates vary depending on the text difficulty, error rate, accuracy and with effort:
- A self correction rate of 1:3 to 1:5 errors is good, but a self correction rate of 1 in 20 errors (1:20) is a very low rate.
- A student who is making errors, but is unaware of the errors is not aware of reading cues, or does not know how to use them, or does not try to solve the problem.
- If a student is unsuccessful in self-correction, they need to work on decoding strategies (i.e. Go back to the beginning, Does that make sense, Sound it out, etc)
3. Identify which reading strategies a student is using (or not using)
Look at the types of errors made to determine which cueing system the reader is (not) using. Record the following letters beside each error or self-correction: M – meaning (semantic cues), S – syntax (grammar cues) or V – visual (phonic cues).
- Meaning errors are when the student has substituted in another word that looks similar to the correct word and is grammatically correct, but doesn’t make sense in the context of the text.
- Syntax errors are when the word substituted in makes sense and looks similar to the correct word, but doesn’t sound right (grammatically incorrect).
- Visual errors are when the word substituted in makes sense (meaning) and is grammatically correct (syntax), but perhaps starts with a different letter.
- If you write M S V alongside each error or self-correction and circle the cues you think the child used, the uncircled letters will then show the cues neglected.” (Clay, 1985, p21)
For example, Matt is writing a – – – -.
- Goat (makes no sense) – Meaning error
- Lied (lied is a verb and it should be a noun) – Grammar error
If the sentence was, Matt is writing a p – – -.
- Book (makes sense, grammatically correct, but visually incorrect because the student didn’t use the first-letter cue of p) – Visual error (Pressley, 2002, p24)
Challenges faced in classroom implementation
- The challenge in the intermediate classroom is to build time during the literacy block to do a running record / miscue analysis. Students need to be trained to do other things to buy the teacher time to do miscue analysis or guided reading groups.
- A larger challenge is finding resources that can be used at the intermediate level. PM benchmarks can be used for students who are significantly below grade level, however, teachers may end up making their own running record texts by selecting 100-200 words from a levelled text. Finding high-interest levelled texts for intermediate students is a challenge.
- Finally, there is a learning curve associated with using this assessment tool. Accuracy in catching errors will improve over time. Clay notes that “as your ear becomes tuned-in to reading behaviours and you gain control over the recording conventions, your records will become more and more reliable.” (Clay 1993, p.24 as cited in Cohen & Wiener, 2003, p 127)
Professional Learning Communities can provide a forum where teachers can discuss challenges in implementing modified miscue analysis, identify observed strengths and deficencies in reading strategies, and address a division or school wide plan of action to provide the student population with strategies to struggle through any text.
Clay, M. (1985). The Diagnostic Survey. In The Early Detection of Reading Difficulties: Third Edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Pp 16-22.
Cohen, J. & Wiener, R. (2003). Using the Literacy Portfolio to Assess and Guide Reading Development. In Literacy Portfolios: Improving Assessment, Teaching and Learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Pp. 115-144.
Fountas, I & Pinnell, S. (1996a). Teaching for Strategies. In Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, pp. 149-162.
Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996b). Understanding Guided Reading. In Guiding Readers and Writers Grade 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre & Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, pp. 190-205.
Goodman, K. (1960). Analysis of oral reading miscues: Applied psycholinguistics. Reading Research Quarterly, 5, 9-30 as cited in Au, K.A., Carroll, J.H. & Scheu, J.A. (1997). The impact of Dorothy Strickland, Lev Vygotsky, Ken Goodman, and Luis Moll in Balanced Literacy Instruction: A Teacher’s Resource Book. Norwood, MS: Christopher-Gordon Publishers. Pp.10-23.
National Education Association of the United States (2003). Balanced Assessment: The Key to Accountability and Improved Student Learning. Portland, OR. Pp 1-16.
Pressley, M. (2002). Whole Language. In Reading Instruction That Works: The Case for Balanced Teaching. New York: Guilford Press. Pp. 15-44.
Robb, L. (2000). What Teachers Need to Know about Grouping. In Teaching Reading In Middle School. Toronto: Scholastic, pp, 205-212.