A Second Look at Some Great 2019 Think Tank Articles

August 2021

We put out a poll for our readers on the best articles from our 2019 issues, and now we present the top-voted articles to you in all their glory! From Cognitive Load Theory to Reading, from Bilingualism to Empathy, and more, we’ve got a wide range of topics in this month’s re-print issue. 

Our cover: “If everything around seems dark, look again, you may be the light.” – Rumi               
Cover photo by Simone Nandico on pixabay, others from unspash & pixabay

Watch before you read...

We are rerunning our readers’ favorite articles from the 2019 Think Tanks. Oh, they are so good! Look through the Table of Contents to see what you missed, or what was so good that it is worth reading again. Enjoy. And we’ll get back to our regular issues next month. Let’s start by looking at our favorite 2019 intro videos: state-of-the-art, surprising, and inspiring.

Our Thoughts on 2019

2019 Was a Great Year! Curtis Kelly

Whew!  This was hard.  We sent out a survey to our readers and asked them to tell us about which articles they liked. They tended to like them all, and a whopping 14 articles were all within a couple votes of each other!  In the end, we editors had to go in to make the final choices of which to include in full, and which to put links in for.  It wasn’t easy.

Think Tank Articles

Cognitive Load Theory: What it is, and Why Teachers Should Care about it Julia Daley

Here’s a scene from a classroom. It’s a language class where the students are learning to communicate in English. The teacher explains to the students their next task—to interview a classmate and then make a presentation introducing their partner. First, though, they must create their interview questions. The teacher instructs the students to write at least five questions and emphasizes that they should practice the grammar points from the unit. As the students work individually on writing their questions, the teacher walks around the room and monitors their progress. The teacher notices that one student, let’s call her Amy, hasn’t written any questions; instead, Amy is chatting in her native language with her neighbor (who has written a couple of questions down) about the concert she saw over the weekend. The teacher comes up to Amy and asks “Amy, where are your questions?” To which Amy replies “What questions?” 

The Phonological Loop (our “inner ear” and “inner voice”) and its Role in Reading Amanda Gillis-Furutaka

“You can listen to the dead with your eyes because you can read what they wrote two thousand years ago” (Dehaene, “How the Brain Learns to Read,” our DEEP lead-in video). 

How can we listen with our eyes? Why do we often hear letters and words in our head when we see them on a page? And why is learning to read more difficult for the hard of hearing (Booth, 2019)? In his talk in our DEEP lead-in video, Dehaene explains that sound perception is a crucial factor in constructing the meaning of written languages. He uses scanned images of the brain to show how spoken and written language are closely connected because the same areas of the brain are used for processing both. But what is the underlying system within the brain that controls these processes, and how does this enable us to learn to read?

Neuroscience and Culture in the Mind Christine Winskowski

What does neuroscience add to our understanding of culture and cross-cultural encounters? I was thinking about this as I listened to Sheena Iyengar’s vignette in the lead-in video illustrating an East-West cultural difference: A Western restaurant customer in Japan (Iyengar herself) wants her green tea served with sugar. The staff does not want to serve green tea adulterated with sugar; it isn’t done. A classic culture clash.

Bilingualism Benefits: Early, Late, or Never? Eleanor Carson

Being a Canadian English language educator in a university in Japan, I sometimes ask my students what they think about learning a second language and, in particular, when they think language learning should begin. Over the years, these young adults (most of whom are 18-20 year old Japanese university students learning English as a foreign language (EFL) have told me several reasons for and against learning a second or additional language and, if they were in favor, the age at which they believed learning should begin. As one might expect, these sentiments often reflected learners’ anticipation of their own final grade in their EFL class. If they anticipated high scores, their ideas generally supported developing bilingualism and, often, starting early; while, if they worried that their EFL class scores might negatively impact their overall grade average, they preferred a late start. Indeed, some were skeptical about the need to study a foreign language at all. Out of curiosity, I asked them why they felt as they did.

The English Alphabet is Not “as Easy as ABC” Pauline Bunce

In Hong Kong it is not uncommon for the written English script to be described in a derogatory way by its school-aged Chinese learners. They describe it as looking like “ugly worms” or “chicken guts.” No doubt there are other labels, but these are the ones that my secondary-school students were willing to share with me. One Chinese teaching colleague, newly returned from a self-driving holiday in Europe, told me that he had developed “alphabet headaches” from all the road signs that he was obliged to read.

Cognitive Load Theory and the Differences Between Experts and Novices: What Chess Tells us about Teaching Foreign Languages Caroline Handley

My interest in Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) started with two books I read last year which had a big impact on me. They made me start questioning some of the ideas I’d gained during my teacher training. Both books were about how students learn in the classroom, one by Chall (2000) and the other by Hattie and Yates (2013). Both attested to benefits of explicit teacher-led instruction over inquiry-based or student-led learning. Hattie and Yates’ book also includes chapters on CLT and on the acquisition of expertise. All three areas were clearly closely linked and together challenged two underlying principles behind a lot of my lesson planning: maximise student talk-time, minimise teacher talk-time, and encourage students to be creative in making real meanings rather than practicing discrete aspects of language. Given the shock these two books gave to my system, I clearly had to learn more about these ideas. So, I started reading journal papers about CLT and the strengths of explicit instruction over inquiry-based learning, all the time trying to keep in mind how they might relate to foreign language learning.

Empathy – What, How, and Why for a Better Understanding of this Shift in Perspective Mirela Ramacciotti

To start a productive discussion–ideas are first born in the mind and then become food for thought that can be digested in public in fruitful exchanges–let me begin this article on empathy with a multiple-choice question. According to the experts, which option below is the most empathic response?

If you hear that a colleague is getting bad results at school because of a hard phase he/she is going through, what are your thoughts?

a. This person does not know how to establish priorities.

b. Oh, poor thing! What can I do to help?

c. It might someday happen to any of us.

d. It is none of my business. I barely know this person.

Think Tank Plus

A Message to Teachers from Me with Asperger’s Jun Kuwabara

Part 1) A foreword

Part 2) A liberal translation of Jun’s message

Part 3) Jun’s message as he wrote it in Japanese

Part 4) A short, but important, closing message


Just Give Me Three Minutes Think Tank Team

Just give me three minutes. Just three. Click below and watch this video. Don’t worry what it is about, just click here. That’ll be two of the three minutes.

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

Japanese poking fun at the wonderful arts of Japanese culture.

Get ready to laugh. (Watch their other videos too.)

Reading Trivia Quiz

Do you know the answers to this reading quiz? Touch the arrows to reveal the answers when you are ready!

Uses 50 words: Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Suess’s editor, Bennet Cerf, bet Suess he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words after he released the classic “Cat in the Hat” which uses 225 words. (remember this was back in the early ’60’s when many of us were being given books like, “Dick, Jane and Sally.”)

Most read books: Holy Bible, Quotations from the Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Harry Potter series

Author of top-seller, Becoming: Michelle Obama, and her book was the most popular book in 2018 in France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Greece.

Top countries in reading hours: India, Thailand, China Philippines, top four in world; then farther down: USA, U.K., Japan

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

        Curtis H. Kelly                 Skye Playsted                Heather McCulloch

    Jason Walters                  Rishma Hansil               Mohammad Khari




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