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I'm a chess teacher/coach for a couple of children (age 14-18) at my local (not very big) chess club (we're all member of this club). Due to various constraints on my and their part, all the time I get to see them regularly is a single session of 30 minutes per week. (I do watch and comment on their games or jointly analyze them once in a while, but this isn't exactly regular)

Some background on my current teaching methods

I'm teaching them 'Stap 4' (step 4) using the 'Stappenmethode' (step method) by Rob Brunia and Cor van Wijgerden, de-facto the teaching method in the Netherlands for quite some time.

For people unfamiliar with the method, 'Stap 4' corresponds to advanced tactics (Double attacks on fields that are again some double attack, advanced 'luring', particular sacrifice mates, etc.) and introductory strategy (a bit of intermediate end-games, pawn structure and attacking the king). The method provides lesson outlines and other advice for the teacher and a book with diagram problems (puzzles) for the students to practice the material from the lessons. The problems are 5 ply deep on average. Every 'step' can be concluded by a written exam and a diploma that consists of solving a set of diagram problems under a time-limit (as usual for exams). (The diplomas aren't a requirement for anything, but they're nice for the kids to have)

...and on my teaching skills

I think I'm decent at teaching small groups of (sufficiently) motivated students, which my students are. Most of my teaching experience (in addition to teaching chess for about 5 years at my chess club) is from being a student assistant helping in tutorial sessions at my university and tutoring fellow students in high-school.

I think I'm decent at explaining things related to topics at which I have expertise (perhaps my activity on Computer Science can convince you of this) I'm not very good at maintaining 'order in the classroom' and related educational skills, but these are fortunately almost never needed with my current group of students.

I'd like to think I'm a honest (perhaps too honest at times) and enthousiatic teacher, but I also think that I'm the least qualified person to judge me! (unfortunately, I'm the only person on this site who can judge me, so it'll have to do)

All in all, I don't think my teaching skills are a problem, but do let me know if you disagree.

The problem

The kids I'm teaching aren't chess geniuses, but I think most of them are bright enough to pass the exam, given they're properly prepared. I'm not a chess genius either, but capable enough to teach them. (My actual ELO is pretty low as I mostly play at the club instead of rated tournaments, but you may put me around ~1900 ELO with decent knowledge of strategical elements)

My problem is that 30 minutes is pretty short, in fact a lot shorter than the authors of the method advice. In particular, the authors stress the importance in the teacher's manual of letting the students practice 'special games' related to the lesson's topic (e.g. endgames starting at a certain position) against each-other. I simply don't have the time to do this. (I do manage to squeeze in a simultaneous game of an endgame or such of them versus me once in a while)

Most of the time is spent with me explaining the material of the lesson, covering about half the examples provided in the teacher's manual and commenting on the (incorrectly solved) problems they handed in as homework. Sometimes, I put the method aside for a lesson to discuss their recent games instead.

What I tried

I've stressed to my students that the limited time means that they should take their homework very seriously (which most appear to do), but I'm still worried they fail the exam due to insufficient preparation.

I've tried to offer additional online practice using lichess (the 'study' feature in particular), but this has turned out to be too time intensive for me. I've considered letting them play each-other online, but the difficulties this gives me for me to comment and 'control' their match (such as halting their play, letting them take back moves or look at variations, or just talking to them) made me think this wouldn't work.


So, what additional material/practice for outside the class or more effective teaching methods for our limited time in class can you suggest to me?

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    One question that immediately pops up in my mind is the following: what is the general chess level of your students? – Scounged Mar 17 '18 at 17:42
  • @Scounged I can't really put it in ELO terms, I'm afraid. Most have potential, but suffer from common 'youthful diseases': 'moving without thinking enough', 'not deviating from initial plans when better options are available or even nessecary'. One of them has tactical skill that exceeds my own (when measured in speed on the given exercises). Another has less tactical skill but has decent. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 18:15
  • But, a bit more general: they know basic opening theory (mostly learned from youtube and myself), generally don't fall for simple tricks and don't attempt simple tricks (unless the opponent has shown that they work!), can hold themselves decently in the middle and endgame, can compete against beginner adults, midrange in tournaments among those of their age. But, their game tends to be inconsistent due to the 'youthful diseases'. I think that's something time (and only time!), will 'cure', though. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 18:17
  • @Scounged Would you (or anyone else, of course) indicate what part of this description is particularly helpful? This would help me in deciding how to summarize this in the question. Oh and all my students have completed 'step 3' of the 'step method', for those familiar with the method. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 18:19
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    If they have the passion they would learn on their own. Just point them in the right direction. – TheAutomaton Mar 19 '18 at 21:02
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If the course authors give guidelines regarding the amount of time (number of hours) the course should take or that each lesson should take then you would be unwise to drastically reduce this. For instance if the recommendation is that a particular lesson should take 2 hours and your lessons are 30 minutes then you should cover that lesson in 4 of yours.

That means that you should not have an identical structure for each of your 30 minute lessons. Some weeks most of the 30 minutes will be taken with teaching and demonstration and other weeks most may be given over to practicing their 'special games' based on the current lesson.

This approach really shouldn't be a problem for either your target age range or for you.

One further point. You mention your chess strength but don't say anything about your teaching abilities. When it comes to teaching children chess teaching ability is far more important than chess ability.

A master (national, international, grand or otherwise) who is an incompetent teacher will be useless as a chess teacher whereas an excellent teacher who is a weak chess player will still do a very good job.

  • I'm afraid spending increasing the number of lessons would be a bad idea for my case. First, I think this would mean I'll have to turn a 1 year program into a 2-3 year one. This is a bad idea for multiple reasons, the most important being that this means the class level will adapt badly with the students skill and the lessons become boring. Also, perhaps I should have clarified this, but I'm both pressed for time in lesson length and in lesson number. I'd like to spent more lessons on recall and analyzing games, but I only have about 4 'buffer' lessons left. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 20:00
  • Perhaps you may think that this means my educational attempt is a fool's errand, but it is an errand that, given that I have started with it, intend to finish. Having chosen to do this, I'd better do it well. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 20:01
  • Oh, thanks for the bit about my teaching skills. I have no way to be objective about that, but I'll try to be descriptive! – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 20:02
  • While I agree that teaching skill is important when teaching chess, I still think it's important that the teacher is clearly stronger than the pupil. A ~2000 Elo player may be an excellent teacher for 1500-1600 Elo player, but may not be strong enough chess-wise to be able to help an 1800 Elo player improve their game in a meaningful way, since the 1800 Elo player is not weak enough for the 2000 Elo player to easily identify their (somewhat more subtle) mistakes. – Scounged Mar 17 '18 at 20:13
  • @Scounged This is a bit off-topic, but I'm against rating chess skill for the purpose of teaching by Elo. Why? Because Elo is a rating for chess matches and teaching chess is not a chess match! Why would a ~2000 Elo teacher be unable to stop subtle mistakes in even ~2100 match? If what you say is true, then how could people even meaningfully comment on the games of grandmasters before the advent of computers? Of course, a chess teacher shouldn't be weak and ideally stronger than his/her students, but I think the Elo system is a very bad heuristic to measure this. – Discrete lizard Mar 17 '18 at 20:18

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