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What is the Best Way to Use Decodable Running Records?

Teacher assessing student with decodable running records.

The best way to use decodable running records, or any progress monitoring tool for that matter, is to use the results to inform instruction. We urge educators to move beyond the pass/fail mentality. Educators are diagnosticians. We must approach every assessment through that lens, and ask ourselves, “What does this tell me about what this student needs?”

What is the purpose of administering a decodable running record?

The main purpose of giving decodable running records is to determine whether your students are responding to structured literacy lessons and what the next instructional steps are. Every student learns along a continuum, and it is our job to help them grow by analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and providing targeted instruction. We stand by the foundation of this blog and the practice of assess, analyze, instruct.

To put a finer point on it, using this tool is not meant to place students on an arbitrary reading ‘level’.

As you administer the running record, be sure to score all of the miscues. This will provide a window into your students’ needs.

How do I know which passage to use?

When implementing a decodable running record, it is important to use a passage that is based upon previously taught phonics patterns. Why? Because you want to know if students have mastered this skill or if they need further review.

It is not a pass/fail measure. If the student has not mastered the skill, use that knowledge to inform your instruction and continue to review that skill until mastery is achieved. Why? Because you can’t build on a shaky foundation. Students who cannot accurately or automatically read CVC words with three sounds will not be able to read words with digraphs or blends. Avoid the urge to rush on to the next skill or element before mastery is achieved.

Let’s take a closer look at what a decodable running record can tell us.

When we created our decodable running records, we sought to anticipate specific areas with which students might require further instruction. As we drilled down into specific skills, we created a document entitled, Guidelines for Analyzing. We identified over 15 skills and provided suggestions for next instructional steps for each. (Bonus: this document does NOT contain any reference to MSV because that is NOT aligned with the science of reading!)

Keeping this document handy while you review your students’ running records takes the guesswork out of what to look for and next steps.

What data can a decodable running record provide?

  1. Applying phonics knowledge to connected text: This includes a number of discrete skills.
    • Taps and blends
    • Taps but doesn’t blend
    • Doesn’t self-correct errors
    • Blends words backwards or out of sequence
    • Misreads phonetically regular words (b/d reversals, vowel confusion, etc.)
    • Hesitates – takes longer than 3 seconds to read the word
    • Guesses at words by using the first letter or first few letters
  2. Fluency and/or automaticity
    • Blends words automatically and reads in phrases
    • Blends automatically and reads in phrases but reading rate is slow
    • Blends words automatically but reads word by word
    • Skips punctuation
  3. Phonetically irregular words (or words containing untaught patterns)
    • Misreads phonetically irregular words (aka heart words, trick words)
    • Pauses at irregular words and waits for help
  4. Tracking
    • Skips or inserts words
    • Skips whole lines of text
    • Repeats words, phrases or sentences
  5. Last, but not least, comprehension

What if some of my students have mastered the skill and others have not?

Great News! This is the answer to your small group instruction.

When analyzing individual student’s assessment, look for common areas of needs (or strengths) across your whole class.

If you have several students who can read with accuracy and automaticity, group them together and teach them the next skill.

Do you have a group of students who are accurate with the phonics pattern but not yet automatic? Group them together and target automaticity at the word level.

These grids help students develop word reading automaticity.

The students who are accurate, but reading word by word, will benefit from direct instruction in phrasing.

Decodable Word Lists and Sentences
This resource is very useful in supporting students who need to develop phrasing.

How do I address irregular words?

Every school/teacher follows a slightly different sequence of instruction, we chose to use the Fundations sequence as our guide when we created the running records. You can approach administration of the running record in a couple of ways.

  1. If you don’t think that your students will be able to read the heart words within the context of connected text, you may want to spend some time working with the class on those words before giving the running record.
  2. You can use the running record as a way to determine your students’ strengths and weaknesses which will help guide you in determining instructional focus.
    • Some students may already have a number of these types of words in their orthographic memory and can read them with accuracy. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can spell these same words with accuracy. These students would benefit from ‘heart word’ spelling instruction.
    • For students who are unable to read irregular words within the context of connected text, they too would benefit from ‘heart word’ spelling instruction. Remember, reading and spelling are reciprocal skills.

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

What about students who get nervous during assessments? Now that you know that assessments are not about pass/fail, you can alleviate their stress by beinG honest with them. We often tell our students that the reason we are asking them to read the passage is so that it will help us (the teacher) know what needs to be reviewed and practiced and whether we are ready to move onto the next step.

We make the assessment more about us and less about the student

Why can’t I just use a patterned text? To be honest, patterned texts are thinly veiled leveled text. Like leveled text, most patterned texts expect the student to rely on the picture clue, use the first letter of the unknown word, and….GUESS! Check out our IG post on the problem with patterned text.

Even if the pattern text uses decodable words, the pattern results in students reading by memorization and picture clues. For example, if the pattern is I see a…(insert word that is illustrated in the picture), students quickly pick up on the pattern, I see a and often ‘read’ without reading. This is epitomized by the student who says the words I see a without even looking at the text. Then the student comes to the last word, glances at the picture, and says whatever is in the picture.

Where can I find decodable running records?

More great news! They are available in our TPT store!

Image of Decodable Running Records
These decodable running records are designed to provide teachers with a time efficient means to assess student progress.

Ready to move beyond the closed syllable?

Set 2 of our Decodable Running Records is also available in our TPT Store.

Decodable Running Record Set 2

Connect with us on Instagram and send us a DM with any questions you might have.


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