LbSD podcast, episode two: Fostering equity through cognitive science

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Learning by Scientific Design is a podcast series by Deans for Impact that explores how an understanding of cognitive science, or the science of how students learn, can lead to more rigorous, equitable and inclusive teaching.

How does teaching with a deep understanding of cognitive science lead to equitable experiences and outcomes, especially for students with special needs? In this episode, you’ll hear from:

  • Amber Willis, Program Director, Deans for Impact
  • Louise Vose, Adjunct Professor, School of Education, Endicott College
  • Shannon Hammond, Assistant Professor of Special Education, College of Education, National Louis University


Cognitive science tells us that every child has a virtually limitless capacity to learn – that our minds have an endless capacity for knowledge. Yet, students from historically marginalized communities often experience instruction that falls short of supporting their full capabilities. 

“There is this narrative around students with disabilities and narratives around students of color and particular genders about what they can and can’t do,” says Amber Willis, DFI program director. “And coming at it from a place of science means all kids, each child, can do these things.”

When teachers plan lessons with a deep understanding of cognitive science, they are more attuned to their students’ needs and can better structure learning experiences. This is particularly applicable to teaching students with special needs.

Louise Vose of Endicott College spent decades in K-12 classrooms working with students with special needs and is a participant in our Learning by Scientific Design network. Vose says learning about cognitive science through the network helped her better consider how a student with a learning challenge can absorb information.

“It just showed that it could address some of the tenets of teaching kids with special needs at the basic level,” says Vose. “[Like] making information meaningful to them, giving them ways to recall the information, giving them ways to apply the information.”

Shannon Hammond, who primarily works with aspiring master’s-level special education teachers at National Louis University, also emphasizes the importance of instruction that’s grounded in how students learn. Understanding cognitive science has helped her start to think about special education in new ways.

“There’s some research to show that it’s not that we have more students with learning disabilities. It’s that the practices that are happening within schools are not effective for many of our students,” says Hammond. “So they’re now presenting as having a learning disability when in fact, if they were receiving really effective instruction, they would not be presenting in that way.”

Hammond points out the need for teachers to be deeply mindful of the different identities that each of their students carry.

“How are we also thinking about who your students are as people? Within all their identities coming into your classroom and knowing who you are and your identities, how does that impact your instruction?” Hammond offers. “And in what ways can you actually bring in your students’ identities to expand learning opportunities?”

Listen to the episode and subscribe for the full series via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or YouTube.


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