As educators who follow guided reading programs with the aim of teaching students how to apply problem solving strategies as they read, we typically start running records with emergent readers that already have sentences in them – and my question is why? Could we not start earlier? Running records are used to assess which strategies the child is using when learning to read – structural cues, visual cues, or cues for meaning, which then informs our teaching. Could we not see which strategies a child is using earlier in his or her reading history, when he or she is still reading books with only one or two words per page? Of course we can! I’ll use my daughter as an example – when we read books from our Emergent Readers collection, I notice that she looks at the pictures first – which is fantastic. Her strength in reading is looking at pictures to grasp meaning; her weakness in reading is mostly visual – she is not carefully looking at and sounding out the letters. For example, she may say the word “car” instead of decoding the word “van” due to her interpretation of the picture. Knowing this, I am able to direct and guide her to use other strategies – look at the word – what is the initial sound, what is the end sound etc., building on and strengthening her ability to use visual cues. When the words are short and easy to phonetically sound out, or if they are sight words, it is easier for her to decode the words while looking at the letters. At this point, we are not worried about plots or storylines, we are just learning how to apply fundamental reading strategies and answer basic comprehension questions. By establishing a solid foundation of strategies that will help her learn how to read, she will then be able to continue applying them when more challenging readers are presented.
Do the current guided reading books need to be adjusted so that children can benefit from them in the earlier stages of reading? This is the question I now contemplate – perhaps in the future running records will be added to our current collection of Emergent Readers and Transitional Readers.