How To Think

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How To Think

How to Think

"...chess ability has long been considered a simple shorthand for smartness: the more intelligent you are, the better you can play chess and vice versa" - Paul Tough

This chapter focuses on Intermediate School (IS) 318 in Brooklyn, NY.  Despite being one of the only public schools to compete, IS 318 has won every division at the National Junior High Chess Championship almost every year.

Intermediate School 318

Elizabeth Spiegel

The key to the students' success is the teacher, Elizabeth Spiegel, who not only teachers her students chess skills but life skills such as cognitive flexibility and self-control.

Cognitive self-control is the ability to inhibit an instinctive and habitual response and substitute a more effective, less obvious one.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box, and negotiate unfamiliar situations.

"[t]eaching chess is really about teaching habits that go along with to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought process" - Elizabeth Spiegel

Character Strengths in Chess Playing

GritCuriositySelf-ControlOptimismSocial Intelligence

James Black

The ultimate question in this chapter was whether a student's skill at chess transferred to other academic areas. What author Paul Tough found was it wasn't the knowledge that needed to be transferrable, but the dedication and determination of both the student and the teacher.  Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson's has a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master any skill, while chess grand master Jonathan Rowson feels that "when it comes to ambition it is crucial to distinguish between 'wanting' something and 'choosing' it" (Tough, 2012, 130). As an experiment to see if the students' chess skills were transferrable, Elizabeth Spiegel volunteered to tutor one of her best students, James Black, to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Students who passed this test had the opportunity to attend some of most selective high schools in New York. Spiegel watched Black work tirelessly for an entire year towards his goal of achieving chess master status and she wanted to help him put that same determination into the admissions test. However, what she found was that James Black was missing too much foundational information (Tough, 2012, 147). Based on this experiment, Spiegel and Tough found that it isn't just intelligence that determines success, it's a mixture of intelligence, determination and hard work. When it came to James Black and his education, his past teachers did not push Black enough to be successful although he had the intellectual ability. Tough ends his chapter by stating that “[f]or a student with his prodigious gifts, anything seems possible - as long as there’s a teacher out there who can make succeeding in school as attractive a prospect as succeeding on the chessboard” (Tough, 2012, 147).

What can we learn about thinking from the IS 318 Chess Team?


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