Home > General Overview of the Competency Model > Levels of Cognitive Representation > The Conceptual Mode > Literature Note - Conceptual Mode

Conceptual reasoning supports categorization, logical inference, argumentation, and causal reasoning. It is best suited to reasoning over decontextualized mental models. Since it involves recall and not just concept formation, conceptual reasoning presupposes access to prior knowledge, which is associated in turn with comprehension fluency (Ericsson & Kintsch, 1995) and text production (Cain, Oakhill, & Bryant, 2004; DeGroff, 1987; McCutchen, 2000. Effort put into conceptual reasoning connects ideas, which improves comprehension (Brem & Rips, 2002), rewards effort processing hard-to-read texts (McDaniel, Hines, & Guynn, 2002; McNamara, Kintsch, Songer, & Kintsch, 1996), and improves writing quality (Hillocks, 1987). Recall and knowledge-based inference are, of course, relatively straightforward, falling low on scales of cognitive complexity of the sort noted by Bloom (1956). The development of abstract thought occurs relatively late (a well-established finding, cf. Piaget, 1929). Even though modern society places a considerable premium on abstract reasoning, as Kuhn (1991) noted, many adults do not demonstrate high levels of expertise, so that (for instance) reasonably competent college writers often score low in critical thinking (Condon & Kelley-Riley, 2004).

Critical thinking has been emphasized in calls for educational reform (Moseley et al., 2005), yet without much discussion of the connections between writing and critical thinking. Research to date (e.g., with regard to writing to learn, Klein, 1999), indicates that writing has positive but inconsistent effects on learning. Yet it is clear that conceptual reasoning has a key writing role, defining what Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) termed the conceptual problem space. Many academic skills depend upon close integration of writing, reading, and critical thinking.

In reading research, what we are terming the conceptual mode is not necessarily distinguished from the situation model (Kintsch, 1988). We prefer to distinguish the situation model from the conceptual mode, as the kinds of reasoning involved are separate. However, we do not claim that these kinds of inference form a separate memory store from those represented in the social mode, though there is certainly evidence that the inferences involved are of a different nature, as we discuss elsewhere.

Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1987). The psychology of written composition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook 1: The cognitive domain. New York, NY: Addison Wesley.

Brem, S. K., & Rips, L. J. (2000). Explanation and evidence in informal argument. Cognitive Science, 24(4), 573.

Cain, K., Oakhill, J. V., & Bryant, P. (2004). Children's reading comprehension ability: Concurrent prediction by working memory, verbal ability, and component skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 31-42.

Condon, W., & Kelley-Riley, D. (2004). Assessing and teaching what we value: The relationship between college-level writing and critical thinking abilities. Assessing Writing, 9(1), 56-75.

DeGroff, L. J. C. (1987). The influence of prior knowledge on writing, conferencing, and revising. Elementary School Journal, 88(2), 105-118.

Ericsson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (1995). Long-term working memory. Psychological Review, 102, 211-245.

Hillocks, G., Jr. (1987). Synthesis of research on teaching writing. Educational Leadership, 44(8), 71-76, 78, 80-82.

Kintsch, W. (1988). The role of knowledge in discourse comprehension: A construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95(2), 163-182.

Klein, P.D. (1999). Reopening inquiry into cognitive processes in writing-to-learn. Educational Psychology Review, 11(3), 203-270.

Kuhn, D. (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

McCutchen, D. (2000). Knowledge, processing and working memory: Implications for a theory of writing. Educational Psychologist 35(1), 13-23.

McDaniel, M.A., Hines, R. J., & Guynn, M.J. (2002). When text difficulty benefits less-skilled readers. Journal of Memory and Language, 46(3), 544-561.

McNamara, S. S., Kintsch, E., Songer, N. B., & Kintsch, W. (1996). Are good texts always better? Interactions of text coherence, background knowledge, and levels of understanding in learning from text. Cognition and Instruction, 14, 1-43.

Moseley, D., Baumfield, V., Elliott, J., Gregson, M., Higgins, S., Miller, J., & Newton, D. P. (2005). Frameworks for thinking: A handbook for teaching and learning. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Piaget, J. (1929). The child's conception of the world. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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