Chess in school keeps learners engaged
Many have noted St. Louis’ meteoric rise to international prominence in the game of chess. Visit the city’s Central West End and you are more likely to bump into one of the world’s top grandmasters than one of the players of the much-beloved Cardinals. The chess elite frequent the city to compete in the many national and international tournaments hosted at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, including the much-ballyhooed Sinquefield Cup, a super-tournament that hails as one of four stops on the $1.2 million Grand Chess Tour.
What gets less attention is the Chess Club’s educational outreach program. For almost a decade, the club has partnered with local schools to teach chess to thousands of students, generally through afterschool programs. In addition to training future champions, the nonprofit’s instructors emphasize planning, decision-making and critical thinking — skills that will help students tackle problems in the classroom and in life.
This year, the club implemented a new initiative: chess during the school day as part of students’ weekly rotation. In fall 2016-17, the Chess Club served 103 classrooms in 12 schools in the St. Louis Public Schools. In the spring, the program grew to 144 classrooms and 18 schools. An additional 13 classrooms incorporated chess during the school day in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
In-school programs provide more equitable access to traditionally underserved students because, unlike after-school programs, transportation concerns are eliminated. Thanks to generous sponsors and ongoing fundraising, the program is offered to schools in SLPS and Ferguson at no charge to students or schools.
The success of the in-school chess program has made it one of the district-wide offerings in SLPS’s new Love of Learning Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to enhance student learning by providing engaging and enriching opportunities. One promising pathway of the initiative is through partnerships with community organizations that can offer students innovative educational experiences.
Chess’s ability to work on multiple levels makes it an especially promising component of the Love of Learning Initiative. Research has found that playing chess has positive effects on student achievement, especially in math. However, parents and educators don’t just want schools to narrowly focus on test scores. They also want their kids to have confidence, be engaged and be intrinsically motivated to challenge themselves. A growing body of research finds that such skills are important predictors of later-life outcomes.
Early signs indicate the in-school chess program is accomplishing this goal. Feedback surveys find that 79 percent of the students say that chess has taught them they can complete difficult tasks if they work hard, and 78 percent say that chess has made them more confident they can learn difficult material. And, perhaps most importantly, 74 percent say they look forward to school more on days when they have chess, suggesting the game is a valuable tool to combat chronic absenteeism.
With the research and scholastics team at the Chess Club, we have recently embarked on a project to make scholastic chess in St. Louis an exemplar for the world. First, we created a set of competency-based chess standards with sequentially scaffolded concepts to take students from basic to advanced status. We are now devising new curricular materials aligned to those standards, including a state-of-the-art technological component that will enhance instructional techniques and student learning.
Additionally, an assessment and monitoring system will allow instructors to track students’ progress, concentrate their efforts where they are most needed, and reward students for passing key milestones.
It is an exciting time for education in St. Louis, and scholastic chess is proving to be a promising ingredient for students’ academic success. As the partnerships with area schools grow, thousands more students will have the opportunity to learn chess using the best curricular tools in the business. And, by learning chess, they will learn much more.
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch