LbSD podcast, episode three: Deepening student relationships and connections

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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 learning science influence specific teaching practices? How might an understanding of learning science lead to stronger relationships with students? In this episode, you’ll hear from:

  • Denise Porter, Reading Specialist and Mentor-Teacher, Belle Chasse Academy


Denise Porter is a reading specialist who also mentors new teachers at Belle Chasse Academy, a K-8 school on the military base in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. As a participant in DFI’s Learning by Scientific Design network, she applies what she’s learning about cognitive science to her own teaching and uses it to support new teachers. 

She offers that one of those meaningful applications is the concept of effortful thinking, or prompting students to think deeply about target ideas or concepts.

“I was one of those teachers: ‘Okay, raise your hand, a thumbs up if you understand,’” explains Porter. She reflects on how that practice didn’t assess whether students were thinking deeply about the content.

In applying effortful thinking, Porter started to check for understanding beyond a raised hand or thumbs up. She asks students to write an answer to a question on a piece of paper, then walks around the room to look at what everyone wrote. This way, she can gauge who has learned the content and who needs more support.

Another learning science practice that made a difference in her teaching was using both examples and non-examples. To illustrate, Porter recounts an experience when she was working with fifth-graders who were reading on first- and second-grade levels.

“We were talking about a story about cooking, and what types of food you could cook,” she says. To make things stick with the students as they read, Porter prompted students to engage with the story and connect it to concepts they had already learned. 

A student who rarely spoke up said, “Oh, examples of things that we eat can be cooked, but not everything we eat has to be cooked.” 

It was an aha moment for Porter. This student was giving a non-example within the context of the story about cooking. The response indicated that he wasn’t just reading the words on the page: he was also thinking critically about them.

“I was so excited at that cognitive development for a student whose IEP indicates that he has a cognitive delay,” she shares. “So I was excited about that strategy, and that discussion came from Deans for Impact.”

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

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