Ways to Read Words as seen through Ehri’s Developmental Phases

Reading is very complex. Depending on the theoretical lens you use (and we all have a theoretical lens whether we are aware of it or not), will determine what you look at as the most important aspects of how students learn to read. Linnea Ehri is one of my favourites. I am a big fan of the developmental psychology of learning how to read, and I appreciated this chart in that it outlines the different lenses we have surrounding how students learn how to read through their development.

Decoding words does not become possible until the full alphabetic phase; it becomes an automatic process during the consolidated phase. With this information teachers are in a better position to understand the source of pupils’ errors and to anticipate the type of instruction that is most appropriate.” (Ehri, 1999).

The following chart is based on Linnea Ehri’s phases of development of reading. It looks at different ways of reading familiar and unfamiliar words as seen through the lens of each phase. It is a very big oversimplification, and does not take account of how teaching styles interact with these phases.

Ways to read wordsPhases of development
Ways to read words in Familiar PrintLogographic/ Pre-Alphabetic/

learn all letters and to use this information to relate to their own speech processes. includes graphemes such as ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘th’.
Novice alphabetic/
(Start of school)

develop awareness of phonemes and relate this to their graphemic knowledge.
Mature alphabetic/ Full Alphabetic
(SK, 1)

help students to achieve the full alphabetic phase and all major grapheme-phoneme connections.
Orthographic/ Consolidated Alphabetic

practice learning unfamiliar words both by breaking down their graphemes to form sounds and by the use of analogy. learning to include morphemes, affixes and families of related words
By sightVisual cue readingPhonetic cue readingAmalgamated cipher readingAmalgamated cipher reading (advanced)
Lexical access routesSalient visual cues connected to meanings by rote learning: connections do not involve letter identities, soundsSalient letters connected to easily detected sounds in pronunciation by letter-name or sound knowledge; spellings partially connectedLetters amalgamated to phonemes in pronunciation by grapheme-phoneme knowledge; spellings fully connectedSingle- and multi-letter units amalgamated to phonemes and syllabic units in pronunciations by grapheme-phoneme, morphographic knowledge; spellings fully connected
Characteristics of sight-word lexiconContext dependent: environmental print; variable pronunciations; isolated written words (few recognised, hard to remember, unstable); does not support text readingIsolated written words can be recognised, remembered; partial letter-based representations; similar spelled words mistaken; text reading supportedRapid, unitised word reading possible; complete letter based representations; spellings may influence phonemic analysis; word reading in text made effortlessEasier to store multisyllabic words; representation of word morphology; organised by orthographic neighbourhoods; similarly spelled words read easily
Ways to read words unfamiliar in printLogographicNovice alphabeticMature alphabeticOrthographic
By guessingWild; constrained by context; constrained by memory for text (pretend-reading)Constrained by context; constrained by initial letterConstrained by context; constrained by spellingConstrained by context; constrained by spelling
By mistaken lexical accessNew word misread as sight word having same visual cuesNew word misread as sight word having same letter cues(Less likely to occur)(Less likely to occur)
By phonological recoding(Not possible)(Not possible)Sequential decodingSequential and hierarchical decoding
By orthographic recoding(Not possible)(Not possible)Analogising to specific wordsAnalogising to specific words, word families, orthographic neighbourhoods
(reproduced from Ehri, 1994) in Ehri’s model of phases of learning to read: a brief critique
Ehri, L. C. (1999). Phases of development in learning to read words. In J. Oakhill & R. Beard (Eds.), Reading development and the teaching of reading: A psychological perspective (pp. 79–108). Blackwell Science.

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