Professional Learning Communities – Setting Common Literacy Goals to align subject-specific classes

Many Intermediate classrooms (Gr 7-8) operate under a rotary timetable where students move to different teachers for different classes. Often times, each teacher operates their classroom as an island. Professional Learning Communities can help a fragmented Intermediate division to align themselves with respect to school and board literacy goals.

The Ontario Language curriculum compliments the expectations found in subject specific curricula (i.e. History/Geography). For example, both the Grade 8 History overall expectations (i.e. 8OE1) and specific expectations (i.e. 8SE1) identify specific knowledge and understanding that needs to be demonstrated by the student. Demonstration of knowledge of content and understanding of content (acquired through reading) are also key areas of the achievement chart for language (Ontario Curriculum: Language, 2006, pg 17). Therefore, by selecting strong texts in History, curriculum expectations from both Language and History can be addressed through a strong literacy program.

Balanced Literacy is often implemented through a gradual release of responsibility model:

  1. Modeled Reading (Teacher does the work; student watches)
  2. Shared Reading (Teacher does the work; student helps)
  3. Guided Reading (Student does the work; teacher helps)
  4. Independent Reading (Student does the work)

Although there is a push to teach subject curriculum expectations using the gradual release of responsibility model, a cross-curricular literacy approach isn’t (just) about using gradual release, but more about the explicit instruction of (decoding and comprehension) strategies, as well as using a common vocabulary for metacognition.

Students need to apply their understanding of Finding the Main Idea, Summarizing Ideas, Asking Questions, Inferring, Repairing Comprehension, Synthesizing Information, and Evaluating Information whether they are reading a narrative in English, critiquing a blog or commercial for Media Literacy, examining a piece of art in Visual Arts, interpreting a map in Geography, learning a new concept in Math, listening to music in Music, or reading a textbook in History.

Teachers can assist students to make connections between classes by using and encouraging a common vocabulary and pedagogy. For example, Beer’s literacy activities can be used in both LA and History/Geography classes: “Somebody Wanted But So”, “It Says, I Say, And So”, “Say Something”, “Think Aloud”, etc.

An aligned rotary intermediate program would mean different classes help students to develop and reinforce reading (and writing) strategies. For example, in English, teachers can tell students we are reading this short story for aesthetic purposes and explicitly instruct them on how we read for pleasure. In Hist/Geo, teachers can tell students we are reading the textbook for efferent purposes and discuss the differences between how we read for pleasure and how we read for information.

This means a push towards building Professional Learning Communities where teachers and administrators can identify student strengths and weaknesses, discuss common literacy goals, and identify strategies and benchmarks to meet the needs of their students and ministry curricula. Modified Miscue Analysis can identify a student’s reading level which can help guide differentiated programming.

Ultimately, the goal is to teach students strategies so they can struggle through a text, regardless of which class they are sitting in.

Running Records and Miscue Analysis at the Intermediate Level

For more information on teaching reading strategies and balanced literacy at the Intermediate Level, visit us at

“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)

Running Records and Miscue Analysis at the Intermediate Level

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?

Miscue Analysis

  • 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.

Running Records

  • 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:

  1. Identify particular difficulties that a student might be having. (Assessment for Learning)
  2. Aid in the creation of homogeneous guided reading groups. (Differentiated instruction)
  3. Monitor the progress of a student.
  4. Allow different students to move at different speeds. (Differentiated growth)
  5. 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:

Reading Level

Running Record

Informal Reading Inventory

Word Accuracy

Word Accuracy

(spelling word list)


Independent Level

95% or more



Instructional Level

90% to 94%



Frustration Level

Below 90%

Below 90%

Below 50%

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.

Classroom Blog Ranking – How Popular is Your Classroom Blog?

How does your classroom blog rank in the blogosphere? Where does your class website rank? Is anybody even out there?

As teachers, we’re focused on helping our students to polish their work. Some of us set up a classroom blog so that our students have an authentic reason to write: to publish their work online to a larger readership – the world.

Then, the harsh reality sets in. It appears that no one is visiting your blog.

This post isn’t about how to drive traffic to your classroom blog, although that’s a vitally important step. (As soon as we figure it out, we’ll let you know.) Instead, this post is to figure out how popular is your blog.

How To Figure Out If Your Blog Is Popular

We’re teachers, not web designers (for the most part). So, although many of the following points might be common knowledge to bloggers and designers, if you’re not a teacher in the biz, chances are it’s new to you.

  1. Do strangers leave comments on your posts or your students’ posts? If the only people leaving comments on your student work are students in your class, then you’re missing out on the power of the internet. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your first comment from somebody out in cyberspace… Just make sure you consider internet safety and figure out how to protect your students online.
  2. Are you tracking your visitors? Most teachers don’t know how to set up a wesite, let alone track visitors, but one of the most exciting things can be knowing that other people are visiting your site. You can install a free invisible webtracker like statcounter which will collect data about provide detailed real-time stats about who your visitors are. (You’ll need to be able to edit the HTML code of your blog directly, which means you’ll probably need to run your own self-hosted blog,)
  3. Do you know where your visitors are from? One of the most attractive features about running a classroom blog is that people from around the world can read your work. A free widget like clustrmaps displays a map right on your blog showing where your visitors are from. Your students will love it. (You’ll need to be able to edit the widgets on your blog, which means either a classroom blog hosted by 1) an educational service like edublogs, 2) a free blog service like, or 3) a self-hosted blog.)
  4. Does Google know who you are? Search engines can drive a lot of traffic. If you type in site:, you can see if this site is indexed by google. Although the googlebots regularly crawls the web and updates the index, you may want to submit your site directly to Google.
  5. Does Google consider your site important? Google PageRank (PR) is a score out of 10 ranking how important Google considers your classroom blog. Zero means Google doesn’t consider your site important or your site is brand new. In comparison, a PR of 10 means your site is the ultimate authority. (Curiously, has a PR of 10). Today, has 7 posts, 1 page, has been active for approximately 2 months, and has managed to get a PR of 3. (There are several sites online that will allow you to check the PageRank of your classroom blog.)
  6. Do other people consider your site important? There are several different ways to measure the popularity of a classroom blog. Alexa is a traffic rank where the lower your number, the more popular your site is. (We currently have an Alexa rank just over 2 million.) Your Alexa score is based on the number of Alexa users (people who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar). Similarly, Technorati is a rank of how popular your blog is in the blogosphere. The lower your technorati rank, the more popular the site. (We have a technorati rank just over 1 million.)Jon Lee has a neat little piece of code that lets you show off some of your blog stats. Showoff Rankings will proudly display your Alexa, Compete, Technorati and Google PageRank (although you do have to manually enter your Google PageRank because it’s against Google’s Terms of Service to have it automatically updated. Some bloggers might throw in a PageRank of 10, but they’re not really fooling anybody.)

Summer Break

We’re putting this educational blog on hold for the summer.

Teaching in Ontario means that we have summer vacation in July and August. (Not necessarily a given… teachers and students are still slugging away at the curriculum in Australia where it’s currently their winter.)

So we’re going to have to put some of our projects on hold, including our blogs to build self esteem through random acts of kindness. This July, we’re doing some traveling as well as doing some additional teacher training online. But, hopefully, August will bring some high quality internet connections and allow us to get things ready for the upcoming school year.

Have a great summer!