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How you can easily improve your class’s focus and discipline

Oct 21, 2014
Coach 1270

Teachers, is it just me, or does the younger generation lack for focus and discipline in the classroom? The worrying lack of attention span and basic respect for the learning process I’ve seen as a university lecturer seems to be getting worse, as technology enables kids to chat, search and shop while someone is trying to teach them something. It’s all you can do not to grab a phone and throw it out of the window.

And paying attention isn’t the biggest problem either. These stories about schoolchildren who routinely swear at and physically abuse classmates and teachers made me wonder whether acronyms like ADHD, SEN and EBD are just excuses for terrible (and sometimes even criminal) behaviour – as well as an admission of powerlessness on behalf of us, the educators.

But kids will be kids right?

Wrong. I think back to my grade 5 class, and the troublemakers I sat next to. These were boys who would use elastic bands to shoot the teacher in the back of the head with paperclip projectiles, or put pins through his chair cushion. We were proper little bastards, if I’m being honest. So how did my teacher deal with us? He borrowed ten chess sets from the library, and told us we could play when we finished our work.

Within days, the classroom had become so quiet you could have heard those pins drop on the floor.

The two Michaels, captain and vice-captain of the rugby team and the real tough guys of the school could be seen hunched over a board instead of picking on the kids in the orchestra. Sean T., a boy who had been suspended twice for bringing alcohol to school, became a chess zealot. His refrain of “Chess, yes!” became the standard reply to questions of how we should spend our time in between classes.

The fact is that chess is so much more than just a board game. Unlike Monopoly or Risk, chess doesn’t rely on getting the roll of the dice, and it engages the totality of a child’s being: memory, abstract rational thought, spatial intelligence, fine motor skills and concentration are all tested by the game. Moreover, in chess one is often going to lose, so getting back on the horse (or learning to use your knight better, as the case may be) becomes second nature. In a culture transfixed by the idea of perfection, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of learning that failure simply provides the information without which we can never hope to succeed.

Moreover, and aside from the valuable skills the game imparts, chess can bring hope. This touching story of a passionate chess player and the gift he gave a class of orphans shows as much. The fact is that chess brings so much to difficult situations with children, and many countries in the world are recognising as much, making chess part of the curriculum.  

So, my suggestion for improving your classroom dynamic is black and white. Teach them a game that will help you teach them other things. And I’m sure I’m not alone in championing the use of chess in the classroom. If any teachers or parents out there have similar stories, please let us know. Chessity is founded on the belief that chess can improve education and help kids get smarter, so we want to hear from you. Tweet us: #chessinschools or @chessity, and share you stories with us.

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