Professional Development

March 6, 2021

Analyzing Running Records MSV: What To Do When Students Ignore Meaning

When it comes to analyzing running records, circling in the MSV section shows you what’s going on when a student is reading. Once you determine the information a student is using to solve an unknown word, what do you do when you notice that the student is only using syntax or visual cues, but ignoring meaning?  

As we are teaching kids to read, there are many things to consider. We always begin with a strong foundation of phonics instruction. Part of this is making sure they have text in front of them to practice whatever phonics skills we have introduced. We want the sounds to work together to build words. We want the kids to know that those words have meaning. We want them to know that print has meaning.

Learning how to take running records and analyze them for meaning, syntax or structure, and visual cues will help you support young readers and move them forward.

There is a lot of chatter around The Science of Reading. I am learning and growing with you, friends! Here is what I am learning so far from Wiley Blevins, teacher, and author of Choosing and Using Decodable Texts: As readers grow, we want them to use cueing systems. Cueing systems aren’t bad. The text they are reading really does help determine what cueing system they will use. Let’s dive into how to encourage students to use meaning to problem solve unknown words in reading.

What is it?

A student who is struggling with meaning is having difficulty with semantics. They struggle to make and use meaning when reading a word or text. They aren’t using what is happening in the story to help them decode unfamiliar words. A student who is struggling with using meaning might read a story about a cat but read the word “car” instead. This student would only be using syntax and visual cues to solve a word, but he would be ignoring meaning.

Why is it important to recognize when meaning is ignored?

A student who is struggling with meaning is often not self-correcting or monitoring what they are reading. On running records, students may have more structural or visual errors than meaning errors because they are only using structural or visual cues to decode and are ignoring meaning. They don’t realize that the word they said does not make sense in the context of the story. With the youngest reader who has a lot of picture support, the word may not match the illustration.

When students don’t self-monitor their comprehension begins to break down. They don’t truly understand what is going on in the story because it doesn’t make sense to them. It’s important for students to self-correct so they are accurate readers who can comprehend while reading. 

Running Records MSV: 4 Ways to Help Students Use Meaning

  • One way to help students who have difficulty with using meaning while reading is to ask them “does that make sense?” I found myself asking students in my classroom this question a lot when they read orally to me. Does it make sense to say, “The clock said meow”? No, it doesn’t. What would say meow? A cat would say meow. Do you see a cat in the picture? Yes! 
  • Another way to help students with using meaning is to have them use the picture to help them. Illustrations in books give us so much information about what is going on in the story. Students can use the picture and their knowledge of what is happening in the text to help them decode unknown words. After all, when we are writing, we definitely teach them that their pictures carry a story and have meaning. It’s one of the earliest ways that we see kids read–by “reading” the pictures.
  • Next,  you can have students create a quick graphic organizer prior to reading to help build schema and connect prior knowledge. In your small group, have students work together to connect what they already know about a topic. (Quick tip: If students are younger, you can do the writing for students to help keep the focus on the discussion, not the writing.). This will help give students the vocabulary they might need while reading.
  • When students are struggling to use meaning and attend to it, teaching them to self-monitor is essential. We want them to self-correct by cross-checking and looking all the way through the word to use the phonics knowledge they have.

Diving into the MSV part of running records is where the magic can happen! When students are only making errors based on structure or visual cues, or their self-corrections are NOT based on meaning, you’ll know to have students start to work on integrating meaning in their reading.

You can find a few more tips on taking running records HERE.

Are you ready to assess during guided reading? Are you uncertain of taking a running record? This blog post shared 7 tips for taking running records in your guided reading groups with elementary students.

If you want more direct instruction on how to take and analyze running records to move students forward, my online course Rethinking Guided Reading might be just for you!

Join the waitlist and be the first to know when the doors are open.

Happy Teaching,



Want to use the latest research to boost your readers during small groups? This FREE guide is packed with engaging ideas to help them grow!

Hi, I'm Amanda

I’m a K-1 teacher who is passionate about making lessons your students love and that are easy to implement for teachers.  Helping teachers like you navigate their way through their literacy block brings me great joy. I am a lifelong learner who loves staying on top of current literacy learning and practices. Here, you’ll find the tools you need to move your K-2 students forward!


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