2021 Reader Favorites Linking Brain Science to Language Teaching

June 2023

This month we’re revisiting some reader favorites from our archives–specifically, the year 2021. With article topics ranging from stress to design to relationships and more, there’s sure to be something for everyone! Enjoy this blast from the past for our re-readers; for those encountering these gems for the first time, well, may you enjoy learning something new!

Our cover: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” –  William Faulkner

Cover photo by Ayla Blaise on Unsplash; others from Pixabay & Creative Commons

Watch before you read...

We are rerunning our readers’ favorite articles from the 2021 Think Tanks. We covered a lot of territory that year. Look through the Table of Contents to see what you missed, or what was so good that it is worth reading again. Enjoy. We’ll get back to our regular issues next month.

Our Thoughts on 2021

2021 Rippling On Heather Kretschmer

Think back to 2021:

Infection waves, vaccine development, school closures, online learning, loss, school re-openings, new Covid variants, distancing measures, experimentation, assessment question marks, community, hope, . . .

How did the pandemic affect students and teachers in your school?

Think Tank Articles

For the Love of Teaching (and love of your students) Skye Playsted (with Curtis Kelly)

 “No one should teach who is not in love with teaching” wrote the American poet Margaret E. Sangster in 1909. For some of us, teaching was a love affair that began in our youth; for others, it was a relationship that bloomed later in life. I [Skye] fell in love with teaching in the final year of my Arts degree. Not knowing what to do with my degree or my future, I decided I’d finish study as quickly as I could and find a job in a café somewhere to pay the bills. I took a single semester course called “The Four Macroskills of Teaching German,” as I’d enjoyed studying German as a second language, and it meant I could finish my degree within the semester rather than drag it out till the end of the year. I am forever indebted to the passionate educator who ran that course. She prompted us to ask ourselves questions about language learning concepts: how we felt when we were learning a new language, what we remembered as being difficult when we were learning something initially. I’d never asked myself questions about how I learned a second language, so by taking this short course, I learned how to reflect on and explore the language learning process. My eyes were suddenly opened to the joy of being able to understand and help someone else on their language learning journey. That was the start of my falling in love with teaching!

Do You Want to Hear a Story? Here’s Why. Curtis Kelly & Stephen M. Ryan

Imagine yourself teaching a class. It is near the end. You ask, “We still have some time left, so which would you rather do? Try another exercise? Or hear a story?” How do you think your students would answer?

This one is pretty easy. For the vast majority of us, it would be: “Hear a story.” But let us ask you another question. While imagining that situation did any of these thoughts lurk in the background: Doing an exercise would be serious language study; telling a story might have some learning value, but would basically just be something nice to do for the students.

Inside Evidence-Based Learning Strategies Jason Lowes

There are many ways to teach and to learn. Some ways are not particularly effective or efficient (e.g., repetitive re-reading of the same material) and some ways are highly effective and efficient (e.g., correctly using flashcards). One would think that all teachers and students would abandon the ineffective ways and adhere to a diet of healthy study choices. Unfortunately, many who could benefit from an awareness of what would help them have not been presented with the information that they need to make the change.

The Replication Crisis: Research Fraud? Or Something Worse? Curtis Kelly

Brian Nosek’s Reproducibility Project touched on a major problem in research: the publish or perish dilemma. To get hired by a university, to get tenure, and to get research grants—all the gateways associated with a successful university career—you have to publish in good journals and publish a lot. “Publish or perish” they say, and that incentivizes researchers to get published no matter what.

Using Social Testing to Brighten One of Life's Darkest Moments Tim Murphey

Certainly, one of the most a-social times for our students is when they are taking tests. Traditionally, they are not permitted to talk to others, exchange ideas, collaborate, help others, laugh out loud, or make a new friend … they must do it all alone! However, in normal, everyday life when we do not know something, we can ask people for help, we can be social, and not feel alone and alienated—a direction that our societies are going more and more (aka “III,” Increasing Isolation and Individualization, the reason the UK now has a Minister for Loneliness). Thus, because tests are so isolating, they are also stressful, alienating, depressing, and basically one of the lowest-ranked learning events in places that advertise themselves as learning institutions!

Stress: A Teacher’s Enemy or Ally? Curtis Kelly

Stress. The Problem Child of life sciences.[1] Good or bad? Enemy or ally? For example, dozens of teachers I’ve met at conferences have said: “A little stress helps learning.” Thousands of websites: “Stress is a killer.” A century of research: Well, hard to summarize, but look at what Newsweek’s Mary Carmichael had to say:

“When I started asking researchers about “good stress,” many of them said it essentially didn’t exist. “We never tell people stress is good for them,” one said. Another allowed that it might be, but only in small ways, in the short term, in rats” (2009, p. 1).

Yes, Language Teachers Can Teach Design Too Julia Daley

No, I’m not being pedantic. I sincerely believe that teaching elements of design is part of our job as English (language) teachers, whether we have any training in graphic design or not. It’s a concept that can be easily folded into our lessons and brought up regularly in our courses. I want to focus on three areas in language classrooms where I think there are plenty of teaching opportunities: reading, writing, and presentations.

Think Tank Plus

Learning about Learning: Studying the Brain in English Class Stephen M. Ryan

It was the katydid that convinced me. I really had no interest in this grasshopper-by-another-name, for all its reported mastery of camouflage. Neither did my students. But the writers of our textbook thought we should take an interest in it, thus presenting my students with a double whammy: an insect they didn’t want to know about described in a language they had not yet mastered.

Call for Contributions: Ideas and 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

Correlations can be misleading!

Most of the research in language teaching is correlative research but, as we have all heard a million times, correlation is not causation. This site drives the point home!

The World’s Shortest Story

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” 

This six-word story is attributed to Ernest Hemingway but, like everything before the digital age, we cannot be sure. The story goes that Hemingway wrote it to win a bet with his fellow writers and they paid up without a word

Here is a short drama (12 min) about a high school student facing presentation anxiety and changing her mindset to overcome it.


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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

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari




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