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Chess moves keep pupils in check

Andrew Denholm Education Correspondent

Scotsman March 25 2002

pupils in check

IT HAS its origins in the mists of eastern history and has inspired and confounded billions of devotees down through the centuries. Chess has been played by everyone from emperors to peasants and inspired a musical and a ballet - despite an apparently simple story-line based on a board and 32 small figures.

Now the game's unique characteristics are being harnessed to tackle the behaviour of unruly pupils in Scottish schools. Experts have discovered that troublesome youngsters who find it almost impossible to concentrate on a single activity can focus effectively by playing the game.

Schools across Scotland have found employing a chess tutor develops pupils' concentration, raises academic performance and improves the behaviour of disruptive youngsters. The positive influence of the game, which seems to work especially well with boys, has now prompted a school in Edinburgh to teach chess as part of the curriculum.

Andrew Saunders, principal of Blackford Brae School, which deals with primary age pupils who have behavioural difficulties, said the influence of the game had a positive effect on his pupils. He introduced chess to the school after a boy with an attention deficit disorder began to control his concentration after learning how to play the game.

Mr Saunders said: "There is a great deal to be learned from chess - how to succeed, how to cope with losing, how to persevere when things are looking bleak and how to build a cohesive strategy. The biggest single asset is probably the increase in concentration levels, particularly among boys. "There is something about chess which fires the imagination and can get children hooked. All of a sudden, someone who has spent months unable to sit still in a classroom for more than a few minutes without causing trouble can find themselves immersed in a game for up to an hour."

Mr Saunders said the school worked to harness the positive effects of chess to enable pupils to progress in their studies. He said: "It works on one level by building up self-confidence and showing pupils that they can achieve, and on another level it raises the expectations of teachers. If a child enjoys chess and learns to play it well, then there must be potential for academic improvement. "We find the positive benefits are particularly noticeable in maths, where there is some degree of cross-over thinking."

Jeremy Hughes, treasurer of the Lothian primary school chess league, believes boys are particularly attracted to chess because there is an element of combat to the game. He said: "Many of us believe that chess significantly improves critical thinking skills, as well as helping children to develop the ability to focus and concentrate, which obviously benefits children in their school work.

"A chess grandmaster pointed out that two of the most popular forms of computer entertainment are simulation games and warfare games and then noted that chess is simply simulated warfare. "I genuinely believe that this combative aspect of the game is inherently attractive to boys, who are often initially impulsive in their play compared to girls who are often more thoughtful and considered."

John Henderson, chess correspondent for The Scotsman, believes the game is invaluable for its ability to promote creativity as well as having a more thoughtful side. He claims to have personal experience on the use of chess to calm troublesome pupils. He said: "About five years ago, I taught chess in a school, something I don't normally do. I was warned that there was one child who was very unruly but after six months of chess training, the teachers discovered his work had improved because chess helped him to concentrate."

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Chess Scotland 2002