Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bloom's Taxonomy and Learning Chess (Part 1)

I was reflecting the other day on how I study chess, specifically studying master games in this case. The "old" me would play through the moves, and read through the commentary and maybe play out a few of the lines in a particularly complex position. Although doing this was definitely beneficial, I wondered if it was the best way to do things - if there was a best way.

More recently, technology and media have allowed us to take this a step further, with chess videos, including those on the internet such as on the Internet Chess Club, or ones you can by from Chessbase or other producers. Again, I would listen and watch the video and "absorb" the information. Again, probably useful in my understanding, but again I wondered if it was the most effective way.

Concurrently, I was at my client's office (by day I work as a financial planner) and noticed a little spiral flip chart with a few words on it - Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. I talked to her about it, and she told me it was from Bloom's Taxonomy. I won't got into all of the details of Bloom's Taxonomy, as there are many aspects to it, but I would like to focus on the cognitive domain, with the six categories mentioned above. I will discuss how each level can be applied to my chess story (and maybe yours). The general idea is that the higher levels constitute higher levels of critical thinking and mastery. I will discuss it in the context of studying a master game. A note to those familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy: I am using the modern version of the concepts, which are slightly different from the original, with the main functional difference for this discussion being the change from nouns to verbs and the slight shift in the last two levels.

Level 1 - Remembering

This is the most basic level of thinking and it is important. This would involve recalling facts and basic concepts.

Chess application: Memorizing the moves of a game (as it may relate to an opening you play). If you were studying a master game, you could try to remember the moves after you have played through it once. This would also include remembering who played the game and what opening it is from. This indeed is very important as this information you remember is used in higher levels of thinking. Also, certain aspects, such as remembering a specific game, may help you access ideas and plans for specific openings. However, knowing is not enough. You need to understand...

Level 2 - Understanding

This level involves demonstrating understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, and interpreting.

Chess application: When you study a game, they key is to answer the question, "Why did Kasparov make this move?" or "Why does this plan work here?" When you listen or read masters' comments on a game, you can ask yourself: "Do I understand what he is saying? Does this make sense?" Some activities you might use to test your understanding include:

1. Asking yourself questions after reading the notes to a move: "Do I understand this?" If not, you may want to move the pieces around and figure out why. (Note: if it is very complex for you as it is often for me, it is okay to make a note of it and move on, because you may not have the basic knowledge necessary to understand the more complex concept - more on that in a future post)
2. When playing through a game, ask yourself: "Why was this move played?" Then compare what you think to the notes given by the author. This is another type of Solitaire Chess, where you cover the moves and try to guess what the master played, except on a level of comprehending the concepts instead of producing the moves. Both methods are great ways to train in my opinion.

Once you understand, then you can apply your knowledge...

Level 3 - Applying

Applying involves solving problems to new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, and techniques in a different way.

Chess application: Of course, this is what we are striving for in our chess games. I would contend that by doing it on a more conscious level we can accelerate our learning. Here are a couple methods and examples of applying.

1. When reviewing your games, try to make direct connections between something you learn to something you did. For example, if you learned about isolated pawns and thought to work at creating isolated pawns in your opponent's pawn structure, note this. This will strengthen your ability to use it in the future (as well as give you confidence that your studying is paying off).
2. Play solitaire chess using a game from the same opening as the master game you studied. For example, let's say you studied a game with the Sicilian Defense where you learned about the Sicilian queenside counterattack. You might want to find another master game in the Sicilian where Black won and try to guess the moves that the player with Black played.
3. Play the computer from the position you studied. Take the side of the winner. The computer will most likely play differently than the antagonist, but many of the positional or tactical concepts that were valid in the original game should be valid in this case as well. This involves being able to select the right positions to do this with.

Once you've learned to apply your knowledge, you can begin to deepen your mastery of the concepts through analysis.

In this article, I discussed the first three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy for cognitive learning, and how we can actively apply these principles to our chess study and training. Perhaps you may find some ideas you can try in your own training program. In Part 2, I will go through the next three steps and also discuss how understanding these concepts can help you construct or add to your own training regimen.

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