Analyzing Reading Behaviors: a MUST for every Teacher of Reading

One practice every teacher needs to do is analyze his/her students' reading behaviors. Kid watching can tell us a lot about student understandings. Check out this post to learn more.

Scrunched up eyebrows, running hands through hair, grunting and groaning, and comments like, "Do we have to do this today?" or "How much longer do we have?" are just a few signs of frustration. Have you seen these before? I don't know a teacher who hasn't, but what do you do about it? If you teach reading (and that includes content area reading), then these signs are the signal an intervention may be needed. Is it okay to let kids struggle a little?  The answer is yes, but using these signs as a cue that we may need to reexplain material is important too.

Reading Stages:

Kids develop reading skills in stages, but the pace differs from child to child. If you observe students at different grade levels, you'll see how the focus shifts and range from the lowest to the highest performing students broadens. This image shows how the focus shifts as our students master skills. This doesn't mean you work only on word work and so on, but rather the literacy diet changes as our kids grow stronger as readers.

Word Recognition:

For emergent and beginning readers, the focus is on word recognition. Kids need to have knowledge of letter names and sounds and how letter sounds are blended to make words. They use decoding skills, sightword knowledge and concept of word to move to the next stage.


Once students are beginning to read, they move to the fluency stage. Students use the five p's to become fluent: Phrasing, Pace, Punctuation, Perfection (Accuracy), and Performance (voice inflections). THIS POSTER is very helpful for fluency lessons, 


Fluency is a prerequesite for comprehension, and students do work on both depending on the difficulty of text. As mentioned before though, the literacy diet means that students who are reading fluently should spend the largest amount of time working on deepening comprehension and growing vocabulary. 

Goldie Locks Principle:

Although I hate to see students struggle, I do think that the signs are necessary to know whether our instruction is Too Easy, Too Hard, or Just Right.  Keeping the Goldie Locks Principle in mind applies to so many elements of teaching, and when we are at the Just Right level, students are working at the optimal level for progress.

This great anchor chart provides a great explanation of what reading of each type of book looks like for the student. It simply explains to students how to select "just right" books. Selecting appropriate reading material is a difficult thing to do for many students and honestly for some teachers. We have to know books well to make appropriate recommendations to kids. Sometimes, we don't make a great match and kids will naturally just put the book down. If it's too easy, they'll fly through it (and practice fluency). If it's too hard, they'll lose interest (or push on with lower comprehension). This happens occasionally, and that's not a huge problem if most material hits the child's "Just Right" level.

Observe and Document:

This FREE RESOURCE is a huge help when you're observing students as they read. It can help the classroom teacher in the next steps. Download your copy today. As I use different materials with students, one important instructional component is what's observed with kids. I work hard at being attentive to the signs below and record them in my notes as I listen to my kids read (and you must do this one-on-one as all of your kids are reading on their own (whisper reading or silently reading) or on running record forms. Kid watching, taking notes, and monitoring error types help you identify skill weaknesses. Below are the behaviors that I make note of when I am testing, listening to my students, or discussing with them:
  1. Pointing-At some reading stages, pointing is recommended, but once the student reaches the transitional reader stage, the tracking of print happens with the eyes only. Pointing is a sign for the upper grades that the level of the text is pushing them a bit too much.
  2. Head Movement-Watch if the child moves his/her head left and right as he/she reads.  You can mention and work on this in later lessons, but students do this rather than tracking with eyes.
  3. Rubbing eyes, hair, or clothing- These are frustration or anxiety signs that the material may be too hard or a sign of fatigue.  Reading is hard work, and when children tire, it may be time for a break. Continued body language such as this is a sign the materials too high in level.
  4. Pleading for Help-I see this normally when I'm checking comprehension.  The child looks around the room as if the answer will fall off the wall.  (again...frustration sign)
  5. Fidgeting in Chair-May be sign of fatigue or distraction, but can also be a sign that the child is hitting frustration.
  6. "Are we done yet?"..."How much longer?"-These questions are an indication that the child is done.  Bring things to closure at this point.  
  7. Frequent Rereading-This is important to note because of the impact on fluency and comprehension.  If a child returns back repeatedly to get a running start, they lose meaning.
One practice every teacher needs to do is analyze his/her students' reading behaviors. Kid watching can tell us a lot about student understandings. Check out this post to learn more.In addition to these frustration signs during oral reading and assessments, I also keep tabs on my students behaviors related to strategies.  I like the indicators on this checklist and find the form helpful to use as I talk with parents.  You may find it helpful too. 

I appreciate you visiting today, and I hope these ideas help you recognize the hidden messages our students show with their behaviors.  They may not be disrupting, acting out, and avoiding for nothing. They may be trying to give you the sign that they need a little help with the material.

Have a happy day and see ya next month!


  1. Is moving the head rather than the eyes when reading a sign of eye muscle weakness?

    1. Yes...or strain with text difficulty. What grade level?? If you're seeing the head moving left to right, and the child's young, that skill is developing. With an upper elementary student in a one-on-one situation (not assessing), I will cue the child to try to keep head still and track with eyes. I think it can also be a learned behavior, so cuing might help. Great question!

  2. He's in fifth grade. I will be sure to start cuing consistently. Thanks!

  3. What grade do you use the reading behavior checklist? It appears it's more for younger students. Do you have one for upper elementary students?

    1. It's for beginning/transitional readers, but you'll see as you flow down the page that the behavior descriptions vary in level. This can be used with struggling upper elementary readers too because you're looking for deficit areas to target for intervention.

      For upper elementary/middle school, the target behaviors would be fluency related and spelling level (multisyllabic words). With comprehension, is the child able to comprehend surface level? inferences? With writing, does he/she write in complete sentences? paragraphs?

      I haven't made a checklist, but these are a few points I'd include. You might also look at your standards for a framework of what's expected for your grade level.


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