Lucy recommends starting to take running records after the first three weeks of school. Looking at last year's data will help you know where to begin with each student. The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Kit & TCRWP Running Records are two good resources.
Remember to assess until the student struggles with decoding or comprehension in order to diagnose and make a plan for the reader. Students at lower levels of text complexity will move up the levels quickly, while on-level 3rd - 5th grade students will move up approximately three levels per year. Expect deeper comprehension from students reading at higher levels of text complexity (symbolism, inferential & interpretive thinking).
Informal, on-the-fly running records taken from a student's independent reading book are also very informative. Here is a great in-book assessment tool from TCRWP, but taking notes on any slip of paper will also suffice.
Writing About Reading Assessments
Here is a TCRWP sample comprehension assessment that asks the student to stop and jot their thinking at pre-determined points. (Teachers can also ask students to stop & jot during a read-aloud book.) When reviewing the student work from this type of assessment, Lucy recommends putting the work in piles from"crappy to amazing". This will give you a mini-continuum and help you plan small group work and individual conferences.
Analyze logs to plan conferring tips and small group work (i.e., choosing a just-right book, reading rate, etc.).
"To accelerate reading development, it is important that the learner has a crystal clear understanding of what 'better' is," says Calkins.
1. Research, Decide, Compliment, Teach
Research: (0-2 minutes) "Show me the work you've been doing. Walk me through your notebook."
Decide: Learning progression is a great tool for this step.
Compliment: (0-1 minute) "One thing about you as a reader that is so fantastic is ..."
Teach: "Today I want to teach you _(skill)____. One way we do this is by __strategy)___."
Leave the student with a note to remind them of what you taught them. The next time you confer with the student, have them show you evidence of their understanding of the teaching point.
2. Coaching Conference: Give quick prompts focused on a .goal (fluency: "Show me how you can read this and sound like you are talking.")
Click here for my notes from one of my favorite resources, Conferring with Readers, by Jennifer Serravallho.
Want more assessment tips? Check out this great resource:
Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Serravallho Ch 2 Assessment