Exploring Evidence-Based Strategies for Language Learning

May 2021

This month we are examining the study techniques and teaching methodologies which science suggests are most effective for learning. The entire issue is full of practical, easy-to-apply tips for any learner or teacher! 

Cover photo by Michael Longmire on unsplash.com, others from pixabay.com 

Watch before you read...

Although evidence-based learning strategies sounds like a dry and distant topic, we think you’ll be surprised by the exciting collection we have gathered here. Start with the Todd Zakrajsek video and see if you can get through it without laughing. Almost impossible! In fact, you might end up laughing so hard that you’ll have to go to Julia Daley’s delightful summary to pick up the main points.

When we get to the Think Tank, Andre Hedlund and Houston Hall take three evidence-based learning principles and give us practical applications for the classroom. Jason Lowes, a leading learning expert in Asia, then integrates these three principles with others into a larger context. These strategies were developed through research in education and cognitive science, critical to our field, yet still unknown to most language teachers (though we intend to change that). Finally, veteran contributor Harumi Kimura closes the Think Tank by telling us about her research on language learning study habits as exemplified in two case studies and her own experience.

Of course, we do not want to leave evidence-based teaching practices out, so, in the PLUS section Matt Ehlers takes us to Barak Rosenshine’s work. Roger Blievernicht then tells us a story from his early days in Japan when he helped students change the way they study.

Our Thoughts on Evidence-Based Strategies

Effective Teaching—A Road Trip with Dr. Todd Zakrajsek Julia Daley

We’re doing something a little different with this month’s issue: we’re basing the entirety of it on evidence-based teaching and learning strategies. So, rather than focusing on a particular facet of the mind, the brain, or education, we’re instead taking a more holistic approach and looking at what techniques neuroscience and educational psychology research have shown are most effective in the classroom. Readers are in for a treat with an issue chock full of nitty-gritty teaching and learning tips that are backed by actual evidence and data.

Think Tank Articles

Forgetting to Remember: Three Research-Based Strategies Applied to Language Teaching André Hedlund and Hall Houston

One of the main quests for any teacher has been to find practical solutions to help students improve their learning outcomes. Since learning is a complex phenomenon and learners are unique individuals with different brains, the task at hand might feel quite challenging and at times discouraging. However, if we look at cognitive processes underlying learning, we might be able to help tackle them more effectively and maximize learners’ achievement. Learning requires memory and a good place to start digging more about memory and how it works is The Science of Learning (SoL).

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.

Time Well Spent, Hopefully: L2 Study Habits and Learning Efficiency Harumi Kimura

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are forced to make behavioral changes such as hand-washing and mask-wearing. We avoid crowds, maintain social distancing. and take measures for ventilation to prevent infection, even on cold winter days! Now, these new behaviors are part of our daily routine. Without thinking much, I frequently wash my hands and regularly wear a mask.

During this period, I have also developed a new study habit: listening to a foreign language program on the radio and studying Spanish for 15 minutes three days a week.

Think Tank Plus

Rosenshine’s 10 Research-Based Principles of Teaching Matt Ehlers

While most of this issue is on evidence-based learning strategies, Barak Rosenshine spent most of his career identifying research-based teaching strategies. Let us look at those as well. Rosenshine wrote several good articles on Evidence-Based Teaching, including (this, this, and this), and made the point in an interview that novices and experts learn differently. He advises that beginners should be taught using direct instruction (although experiential-style approaches are OK after the students know the material), while experts can be taught using less direct methods where the teacher acts as a facilitator.

Homework and Change Roger Blievernicht

I’ve always been amazed at the speed with which junior high school teachers can grade students’ homework. I remember how my English teachers would come back from class with a stack of 40 notebooks and, after preparing a red ink pad, putting on the thumb part of a latex glove and grabbing their stamp, they would hammer through the entire stack. The sounds of paper flipping and stamps smacking created a consistent uninterrupted rhythm comparable to a music piece. In about five minutes teachers would be finished grading and already on to their next task. I imagine that this kind of skill comes along with teaching thousands of students over several years.

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.

Looking Back

Whoops! We missed including this extra in last month’s Think Tank on Storytelling. 

No problem, spaced repetition!

Your Brain on Storytelling

With much appreciated permission from Dan Piraro, Bizarro.com

“Your brain is not your friend.”  -attributed to Amy Poehmer



If My Brain Had a Morning Meeting

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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   




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