Episode #83: Demystifying Learning So We are Designed to Learn with Dr. Lindsay Portnoy

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy is a cognitive scientist, educator, associate professor, and author who is working to translate the science of learning into powerful and intentionally crafted experiences tailored to each unique learning community. 

Lindsay writes and researches about learning science in articles in peer-review journals to widely read publications such as EdSurge and Getting Smart, to ASCD and Digital Culturist. Her new book, Designed to Learn is available now for pre-order.
What it was like when you were a student
I had a very traditional experience with school. I didn’t feel like I was a ‘good’ student until I was in high school and sometimes I wonder if even that was by accident. I remember taking a test in high school telling me what types of careers I should pursue and thinking “wow, I don’t want to do any of those things but I guess I’m not able to do anything else.”
I think it’s really an interesting juxtaposition that in a time where so much money is being spent on initiatives to foster ‘growth mindset’ the grown-ups in the room are still following the entity perspective of ‘this is what type of learner you are and this is what your ability is’. We’re still looking to standardized tests to determine what people are capable of accomplishing and not allowing people to pursue what they care about and supporting them along the way. We ask our kids to be resilient but we don’t model it very well. Especially in a school system that is predicated on bells and exams and multiple barriers to entry from college to career. It seems a bit silly to me.
Lindsay and Barbara at the SXSW EDU conference 2018

Who made a difference in your life when growing up
My parents divorced when I was little. They both loved us a great deal but it was not an easy childhood. In high school, I really grew. I had this choir teacher Mr. Cleveland who treated us all like his kids. He was kind but firm and you knew that he really cared about you. Having him as my teacher freshman year set me on a path towards believing in myself. I had other incredible teachers in high school too including a now very dear friend Kristie Paull Syron who mic’d me for all the school plays and was my coach in forensics. She used to sing beastie boys to me to help calm my nerves before going on stage. “Slow and low that is the tempo.” 
And then there was Jeannie Yakel my English teacher who pushed me in the arts and also in the classroom and had more faith in me sometimes than I had in myself. I remember freshman year in high school I was placed in an honors English and an honors Bio class and I couldn’t understand why. I thought there was a mistake. But I was too nervous (and didn’t know where my counselor’s office was) to ask. Ms. Murphy was my English teacher and asked so much from us. I remember getting an A that first semester and saying something to her like: “well this is good because I think I was put here on accident” She said something profound about “how we’re all in the place we need to be…” My honors bio experience was similar and for the first time, I could see myself as pursuing science or math or art or anything. It changed a lot through school as the pressures of friends and extracurriculars set in but mostly it was the high school that made me start to believe in myself.
Your family 
My hubby is Gary. My kiddos are Judah (11years old) and Levi (9 years old).

And we have two pups (Stellaluna- named after the children’s story because she has a bat symbol on her tushie- true story! And Halley named after the comet because she is so fast and three cats (Olive- it was Judah’s favorite snack when he was 6 and we rescued her, and Emilia and Rosie who came named as rescues). All of our babies are rescues and my kids love their fur babies!
Background as a Cognitive Scientist and unpacking the science of learning