03 August 2014

Teaching Children or Teaching Adults?

'Improve Your Chess Results' by Vladimir Zak (Macmillan Chess Library, 1985) is a curious book. I bought it by mail order many years ago, thinking that I might learn something from a writer described as

One of the Soviet Union's most experienced trainers. His Leningrad school of chess has produced such greats as Korchnoi and Spassky.

That introduction is from the back cover. The first chapter -- '1. How Skill Develops; the Most Important Phases' -- looks to be on the right track with its section headers:-

  • 'Attack something - and if it doesn't move, take it'
  • Both opponents base their play an elementary traps
  • Tactical operations without regard for the position
  • Harmonious co-operation of the pieces and combinations
  • Ability to find the right strategic plan

The second chapter -- '2. Typical Mistakes by Young Players' -- is the longest chapter in the book and is structured with promising section titles that also sound just right:-

  • Hasty moves and, in consequence, blunders
  • Learning openings without understanding the ideas
  • Reliance an general principles, without a concrete plan
  • Underestimating the opponent's combinative chances
  • Disparity between aggressive and defensive ability
  • Miscalculating variations and combinations
  • Inadequate knowledge of basic endgames
  • Implementing a wrong strategic plan
  • The problem of the clock in practical play

My problem started with that phrase 'Mistakes by Young Players' in the title of the second chapter. I wasn't so young anymore and wasn't at all certain that this level of analysis, illustrated with examples from the games of budding GMs, could help me as a player. It might help me as a trainer, but teaching young players wasn't one of my goals. Every time I picked up the book, I would soon put it down, thinking 'good book, but not for me'.

I kept being reminded of Zak's book while working on my fortnightly 'Chess in School' series, last seen in Stavros Niarchos Chess. What exactly is the difference between children and adults learning a subject, chess or otherwise? While searching for an answer to that question I discovered the concepts of pedagogy and andragogy; see, for example, Awesome Chart on "Pedagogy vs Andragogy".

Teaching children or teaching adults -- until now I've assumed that 'Chess in School' is all about the kids. Have I been missing the bigger picture?

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