Why It Is Good To Make Mistakes

Nov 2, 2016
StaffCoach 1537

Doing is learning and making mistakes is part of the process. More than that: mistakes are a good thing! This is a key concept of Chessity: 'productive failure', making mistakes and learning from them, is one of the most effective ways to learn something.

In Chessity, learning chess is all about doing. Have a go at it. No long instructions beforehand. Just log in and start with the first lesson. Click click. Can a rook move diagonally? Try it and see what happens. You’ll figure out the rules by experimenting.

Chess teachers who are used to more traditional teaching methods sometimes have doubts when they first hear about this approach. Won’t kids randomly click through the lessons? Will students really master chess concepts this way? Do they really understand what they are doing?

Floundering makes learning better

Learning by doing is not some fancy new educational concept. It has been a principle for thousands of years, with famous proponents including Plato, Thomas Hobbs, Maria Montessori and Burrhus Skinner. It is the way children learn to talk, walk or throw a ball. Parents don’t give a series of theoretical lectures to prepare their child for speaking or running. They just let their children do these things.

In recent years, Manu Kapur, currently a professor of Psychological Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong, conceptualized the notion of productive failure, the learning process based on learning from mistakes. According to Kapur, research illustrates that it is very effective to let students flail around with unfamiliar concepts, even when they are still lacking the knowledge and skills to solve all problems correctly.

The struggle of floundering helps students to understand the deep structure of problems. According to Kapur, this is both the fastest and the most efficient way of learning. By wrestling with a problem without prior knowledge, we don’t learn a formula that we can apply, but we get to understand the nature of the problem. This beneficial struggle activates parts of the brain that triggers deeper learning. Students that learn this way can apply what they have learned in unfamiliar contexts better than students that had been taught the traditional way.

Exploring what works and what does not work

Learning by means of productive failure only works when children know that it is okay to be wrong and to make mistakes. That they are allowed to try out things and explore what works and what does not work. Since Chessity makes use of game-based learning, this approach to chess learning makes perfect sense to children. They are familiar with it through their gaming experience: in games, it is normal to reach the end of a level through a process of trial and error.

Besides, Chessity does offer support in the learning process. Bit by bit students get the guidance and feedback that help them progress, but only when they need it and never more than they need. In education, this is called scaffolding. Students get enough of a boost to succeed in the task. Look at what happens when a student tries to move a rook diagonally:

First, a startled purple emoji appears (visual feedback), indicating that this is not a good move. This is supported by a sound of disapproval (auditory feedback).

Next, green plus symbols appear on the board, indication the squares that the rook is allowed to move to. Now, the student can try again.

The same happens at a more advanced level. Take a look at the lesson Mate with the queen (#49, Pawn Level). Here, bricks are used as a visual aid, indicating that the king is locked in a prison, where he has to stay. Look at what happens on the next move:

Visual feedback not only indicates that the move that was played (Qa8) was not good (startled purple emoji), but also why not: the arrow shows how Black’s king can escape.

The good move is Qa7, shrinking the prison. After this move, feedback is given as well:

The white king is circled, indicating that it is time to call in the king’s aid.

It is almost checkmate on the next move, but beginners often don’t realize this. That’s why they receive another visual hint:

Black’s king looks nervous, because he realizes that he is about to be checkmated. Besides, there are cheering sounds (auditory hint). Now, the student understands that it is time for action:

Ta da, checkmate!

Direct feedback – the power of gamification

This direct feedback is the power of online and individual learning and it is one of the key elements of gamification (game-based learning). Tom Chatfield talks about this in his famous Ted Talk '7 Ways Games Reward the Brain'(2010). According to Chatfield, if feedback is distant in time and space, it is very hard to learn something. Translated to chess classes: it is not very effective for students to solve a worksheet of chess puzzles one week and discuss the results a week later.

"Rapid, clear, frequent feedback is absolutely central to all forms of learning and engagement”, Chatfield writes on his website. "You need to be shown and to experience exactly how an action plays out, what it caused, whether your attempt worked or not."

This goes for kids who learn chess with Chessity, but also for chess trainers and chess teachers who still hesitate about using Chessity: won’t students randomly click through the lessons? Do they really master chess concepts? Give it a try and see what happens.

Experienced Chessity teachers can tell you what happens: Yes, students really learn how to play chess with Chessity. And quick, too. It takes no more than an hour to master piece movement, just by gaming and playing. As one teacher said: “After an hour teaching chess to a class of 30 with Chessity, I am not nearly as tired as I am after a traditional chess class with a group of five.”

Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid not to try, the saying goes. Chessity embraces this. Just do it. Welcome your mistakes, that’s how we learn!

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