Conceptualising with theory

What? One of the eight Knowledge Processes of Learning by Design. Conceptualising with theory is the process whereby students learn ways in which the concepts they are learning about connect, or are connected together, to form theories. It is the process through which concepts are contextualised, meaning is thickened and understanding is deepened. It involves students moving from the particular to the general, from the concrete to the abstract, making predictions and hypothesising or looking for structure or relationships. This Knowledge Process is also the home of maps, diagrams and schemas.

Why? Conceptualising with theory is one of the key processes through which deep understanding is achieved. It fosters higher order thinking skills as students consider how things are connected, relate to or are part of a bigger whole. Conceptualising with theory offers opportunities for students to take information from the concrete to the abstract, to make generalisations and predictions and to understand the meaning of complex phenomenon. It encourages students to make or see connections between things, to look for relationships and interdependencies. Such understandings are crucial to the Knowledge Process of Analysing functionally and provide a broader base for Analysing critically. Being able to Conceptualise with theory is essential in scientific and engineering settings, crucial in most trades and essential in academic and professional roles.

How? Placemats can be used for a wide variety of purposes and functions. They are outstanding tools for use with the Conceptualising and Analysing Knowledge Processes because of their collaborative and participative character. A Placemat is basically a flip-chart-sized piece of paper that has been divided into four quadrants with a circular area reserved in the middle. Students are divided into groups of four around a table with the Placemat between them – they respond individually in their quadrants to a question, prompt or provocation from the teacher: ‘Which is worse and why, modern war or the war between the Confederates and the Union?’ In this Conceptualising with theory example the teacher is attempting to elicit an underlying theory of war. The next prompt could be ‘How are they similar or different?’ The circular area in the centre of the Placemat is used by the students to identify themes or commonalities in their respective responses. Each group reports back their findings which are then summarised on a whiteboard. This activity could easily become an Analysing activity by asking students to consider the role, purpose or function of the themes they have identified (Analysing functionally) or to consider who is affected and how, the consequences or implications of their themes (Analysing critically).

More information on the Placemat activity can be found here:

See the Lanyon Tool-kit for additional conceptualising by theorising tools and tactics that contribute to deep learning.


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