So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chess and the End of the School Year

We ended this year's incarnation of the chess club this week.  As much as I love the kids and I love chess, I am glad this is over for the year.  It does get tiring to keep these things going.  There are several healthy tensions that cause this, and finding the right course through them is where the effort comes in to play.  These tensions are somewhat about the differences between my expectations for the club and the kid’s expectations.  They are:
  • Teaching vs playing
  • Basic skills vs more advanced skills
  • Motivation vs discouragement
  • Accessibility vs focus
I once asked the kids how many of them wanted to read books on chess.  The answer was no one did.  I brought my modest chess library in, and even managed to avoid the word “study”, but nonetheless there were no takers.  In fact, on a day to day basis, the kids would just as soon I never teach.  They would rather play.  It doesn’t matter whether it is something specific – say an opening – or something very general, like being more aggressive.  The boys and girls would rather just play. 

What aggravates this problem are the various levels of knowledge the kids have when they arrive at the beginning of the year.  They either don’t know anything or are an expert player – just ask them!  In reality, there are several different levels of play going on at the same time, and with only two people who are instructing (my wife and me), it just doesn’t work.  At a minimum, you have three levels:

  1. Kids who know nothing about chess, but want to learn,
  2. Beginners,  who can move the pieces, but have no knowledge of tactics or strategy,
  3. Relatively experienced players, who know a little more and need more of a challenge.

It would be easy to think that you could hold off the second group until the first group catches up, but in reality the first group needs to be constantly monitored to be sure they are moving legally.  It takes one adult just to do that.  (I had one girl – I will call her Sally – that said she knew how to play when she came at the beginning of the year, but still was making basic movement mistakes at the end.)

Sally also highlighted the third issue very clearly for me.  Most of the kids want to compete.  Late in the year, we started a chess ladder, which is a method of ranking within a group mathematically too small to use a regular rating system with.  Most of the kids liked it.  It provided motivation to improve, and might have even brought them to the point of being willing to learn lessons to get better.  I started it too late to find out.  Sally, though, was reduced to tears because she never won a game.  I suspect this would have been swept under the rug without the chess ladder.

Lastly, anyone who has read this blog knows I want the club to be accessible.  However, I am starting to feel as though there may need to be pressure to “get in or get out”.  There were too many kids that just showed up a few times.  It sometimes felt like it was dependent on whether or not after-school care was appealing that day or not.  I think being a little less open would concentrate the group to those who, well, want to concentrate!   Maybe a few kids on the fence would be left out, but the total value of the experience would go up for those kids who are in the club.

There are two adjustments my wife and I are planning for next year.  The smaller adjustment will be dues of some type.  This forces a commitment from the kids and their parents.  It will also allow us to purchase some supplies, like a few chess clocks, bags for pieces and boards, and notebooks/score sheets for the kids.  We have to think about the right amount, but there will be some dues nonetheless.

The big adjustment has to do with a chess curriculum bought through our Home and School Association.  (Our private school version of the PTA.)  We picked the Championship Chess program, having met the founder at an educational conference at the beginning of the school year.  I can’t endorse it yet, since we have to plan out next year with it.  I do have some reservations, particularly about the lessons on chess openings.  However, there seems to be far more good than potential bad.  Furthermore, it has DVDs, and two very specific benefits related to them.  Firstly, the program is designed through the DVDs to allow non-chess playing adults to present material.  Secondly, it allows the one or two kids who are older and uniquely experienced to work on their own.

The end result is that I have my homework for the summer.  I need to digest this program and figure out how to present it in a way that fits my kids.  That will give me some ideas on when and how much I want to close the doors, which in turn will help me set dues.  As I move forward I will keep you informed.  Some of you might be curious, and one of two of you readers might have kids in the club next year!

It’s Your Move!

Well, I guess not this time!

No comments:

Post a Comment