The Stories Students Tell: Narrative Building to Shape Neural Networks

Brain networks with words written on it.

At ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference this November, we are honored to feature a session on “Building Meaning Builds Students’ Brains: Implications for Re-inventing Schools” from Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D, Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and Director of the USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (CANDLE).

About Dr. Immordino-Yang

Dr. Immordino-Yang studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive and moral development in educational settings. She uses cross-cultural, interdisciplinary studies of narratives and feelings to uncover experience-dependent neural mechanisms contributing to identity, intrinsic motivation, deep learning, and generative, creative and abstract thought. Her work has a special focus on adolescents from low-SES communities, and she involves youths from these communities as junior scientists in her work.

Narratives that Shape Neural Networks

Dr. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues are investigating how patterns of thinking and feeling influence the growth of students’ brain networks(link opens in new tab/window). Analyzing students’ narratives reveals their dispositions of mind. When students effortfully deliberate on their internal narratives and engage in deep thinking for themselves, their patterns of brain activity demonstrate developmental effects over time. These changes in their brain networks were driven by students making meaning of their lives in both concrete (here-and-now) and abstract (big picture, systems level) ways.

How can we recognize, model, and promote deep thinking? It is important to focus more on the way that students think instead of focusing on what they know as well as to empower adolescents to build strong relationships with their peers and teachers. At the 37th Annual Executive Function Conference, Dr. Immordino-Yang will discuss these concepts and how we can reinvent schools by redefining what is relevant to our students.

Learn More

You can learn more about Dr. Immordino-Yang and her work:

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: