Linnea Ehri

Linnea C. Ehri is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

In 1974 she was introduced to Ken Goodman's "psycholinguistic guessing game." Her background in psycholinguistics made her sympathetic to Goodman's (1970) theory. But she was not convinced his theory governed all forms of word recognition. In 1978 she proposed an alternative psycholinguistic theory suggesting that readers read words accurately not by guessing but by storing written words in memory and then reading them from memory by sight.

There is no doubt many words can be read on sight if the brain forms a connection between the printed word and the sound that has been associated with the print by experiencing it many times as read by a teacher or parent. Many words in the environment are learned this way by two-year olds, the "STOP" sign, "Coca-Cola," "McDonalds," etc. Until a child is explicitly taught that there is a correlation between letters or letter combinations and sounds, their reading is limited to words they know by sight.

The brain likely recruits the object and face recognition areas of the visual cortex to record the word shape simultaneously with the sounds being recorded in neurons connected to the sound recognition area in the auditory cortex behind the ear. As Donald Hebb said, neurons that fire together get wired together. Later, when either the sound or the printed word are experienced again, the associated print or sound "come to mind" since their neurons that were once wired together now fire together.

Ehri calls this process "orthographic mapping."

Orthographic mapping occurs when, in the course of reading specific words, readers form connections between written units, either single graphemes or larger spelling patterns, and spoken units, either phonemes, syllables or morphemes. These connections are retained in memory along with meanings and enable readers to recognize the words by sight. An important consequence of orthographic mapping is that the spellings of words enter memory and influence vocabulary learning, the processing of phonological constituents in words, and phonological memory.

Learning connections between phonemes and graphemes could of course only occur when a parent or teacher presented them explicitly.

Ehri sent her alternative theory to Goodman who returned it with comments that, not surprisingly, rejected her ideas 1.

Ehri chaired the alphabetics subgroup of the National Reading Panel between 1997 and 2000, which documented the benefits of systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction in helping children learn to read. Ehri's contributions to the NRP report were influential in the Reading First component of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind.

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