Keynote speaker Anna Nicotera has just completed a systematic review of all the studies into the impact of chess in schools (download link below the text). The effect sizes are remarkable, says Anna, a specialist on the efficacy of educational interventions. Given that chess is usually taught for an hour a week (at most two hours), she considers the reported benefits high – especially when it comes to attainment in mathematics. Like all professional researchers, she counsels that the results should be interpreted cautiously since they are based on fewer than ten studies that met the rigorous eligibility criteria of her review.
She gathered all empirical studies on effects of chess in school that she could find in English. She filtered these according to strict methodological standards and went on to analyse the reliable studies in detail. Many school chess studies are not and could not be included in the final analysis, she says. The overall results of the impact of chess are impressive. In order to identify the active ingredients in school chess, i.e. the precise details of how the impact is made, more high quality primary studies will be required.
Susan Sallon initially trained as a concert pianist in London and then took a degree in music at Edinburgh University. She then worked for the BBC in the music department. After taking a career break to have eight children, she took a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and taught Music and Mathematics in a secondary school for twelve years before leaving to start a degree in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Now completing her MSc in Psychology at MMU, Susan has a particular interest in how children learn and is conducting her research into the cognitive effects on mathematics performance in children who learn to play chess at a young age.
Susan came to the attention of CSC when she conducted a study on 500 children comparing those who had studied chess with those who had not. The results were so significantly positive in respect of “thinking skills” that Susan has continued to research the topic. She hopes to expand this research into other areas of learning after finishing her masters. Susan will be describing her latest research in her conference presentation.
School chess started out in many places as a voluntary activity in secondary school. It typically attracted bright kids, with a substantial number of them taking part in competitions and moving on to junior and club chess. As a curricular subject in primary schools, chess has to be approached and presented differently. The goal has to be for all kids to benefit. Chess must become inclusive in the broader meaning of the term.
“Inclusive promotion of giftedness” is what educational psychologist Christina Schenz calls it. According to the professor of primary education at the German University of Passau chess should be as suitable or even more suitable than mathematics to discover and promote strengths in all children of a class, because the acquisition of the game depends only to a small degree on language.
Schenz is a research partner and advisor of the project CASTLE, which has secured EU funding to develop and implement a three year chess related curriculum in primary schools in Germany, Italy and Spain and is covered on FIDE´s Chess-in-Schools website. In the early part of her academic career in her native Vienna she also became a teacher of special education to get the inside perspective, which is now very fruitful for her research and teaching. Apart from inclusion and giftedness, her research interests are on the professionalisation of teachers and on gender roles in education. Both topics are relevant to the further evolution of scholastic chess: Too few female teacher think they are up to using the game in their classroom. And chess pedagogy is only just entering the main pathway of professionalisation, which is the academic training of future teachers.
Connecting people is a main purpose of our conference, which has many informal meetings beyond the official programme. On the eve of the 2013 edition we invited a research workshop. There Giovanni Sala, a young researcher from Bergamo in Northern Italy, first met with Fernand Gobet, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Liverpool. Recently, Giovanni has moved to Liverpool as a PhD student. They are already cooperating on several chess-related investigations.
One of them is on the relationship between handedness, gender and achievement in mathematics and chess, a topic first suggested by Guillermo Campitelli, an earlier PhD student of Professor Gobet from Argentina. While Campitelli had looked at adults, Giovanni´s focus is on children. His underlying hypothesis is that chess instruction at school improves spatial ability.
Another topic he is interested in is metacognition, the awareness of thinking processes. Chess, especially mini-games and chess puzzles, give children relatively easy access to reflecting about how they think when they find the solution or the best strategy. The focus of his presentation at the conference will be on early findings from a study Giovanni has been doing on metacognition in primary school children with Roberto Trinchero from the University of Torino, another speaker at the conference.