Sub-page of Rubilia

This page lists a few thoughts of mine about teaching Go in dedicated personal lessons. It does not refer to public reviews or writings.

Advice from stronger players is widely assumed to be automatically beneficial. In my view, that's mostly wishful thinking. There are various pitfalls and sources of confusion a teacher should familiarize her/himself with, to allow realizing the pupil's true potentialities.

  • A dialog based, activating style may be more suitable for developing active skills than monologues.
  • The pupil's interest is something extremely important to care about: it's hard enough for the teacher to guess, or understand, what the pupil wants or what s/he's actually concerned with. So, it can be very useful to a teacher to care about every hint he can get.
  • If the pupil remains passive, try to find it out nevertheless. Ask open questions, rather than multiple choice ones only. Let her/him tell her/his ideas - not in order to shred them but simply to better understand the way your pupil thinks.
  • Most importantly, respect the way your pupil thinks, even where it may seem silly to you. You think differently, that's all, and often sufficient to state.
    (Keep in mind, everyone's ideas look partially silly from the perspective of a stronger player. Nevertheless, those ideas are typically supported by personal experience. Gradually adding new experience is far more likely to help than deprecating the experience someone has gathered already.)
    Otherwise, your pupil might be (possibly unconciously) afraid to share his/her real thoughts with you, which in turn would impede all the fine-tuning that is essential for efficient teaching.
  • Leaving "wrong" ideas behind is a secondary effect of getting familiar with "correct" ideas. Attempting to put it the other way around can have messy consequences, that is, avoiding an old concept may simply leave annoying defects in the pupil's knowledge framework without necessarily introducing anything superior. Often, significant parts of the old concept are justified. So, don't focus on weakening the old but on strengthening the new.
  • Rather than trying to preemptively explain every detail that might be unclear to the pupil, encourage her/him to intervene whenever something is unclear.
  • To put it the provocative way: If the pupil doesn't ask anything, that may feel like the teacher is doing particularly well, but actually there must be something wrong.
  • Try to answer the pupil's questions thoroughly. On the other hand, don't do it overly extensively, since that likely would rather discourage further questions. Again, the right depth can be found out verbally. E. g., you could ask at the end of the lesson: "What do you think about this lesson, was it rather too fast or too slow, was it too detailed or too shallow, were your urgent questions answered or were they dominated by issues less interesting to you?" Make sure you really understand the answers; if necessary, ask for details, e. g. whether the pupil is referring to a particular point of the lesson. To facilitate candid feedback, it basically should not induce immediate recuperation attempts but serve as a guide for future lessons.
  • "take the bad with the good" - When analysing a mistake, always show good moves that answer the bad one appropriately. Emphasise good moves more than bad ones, e. g. show the board with them for a longer time. Mind you, during the time the pupil doesn't know yet whether you're going to call a move "good" or "bad", the move nevertheless gets visually memorised already. Talk about mistakes only as much as required for allowing the pupil to better understand good moves.
  • The same applies to criticism of the pupil's playing "style" - When commenting on a bad habit in such a general way at all (see below), always provide alternatives. But even more importantly, choose an appropriate point of time for such a severe comment. As a counterexample, imagine that your pupil, after a wearisome period of weakness, finally performes well in a game, going like "yay, success!". It might not be wise to seriously criticise his style in such a moment. Usually, sooner or later some sort of crisis will occur with the pupil asking "I get into these troubles ever and ever again! What am I doing wrong?" That's a good point of time to give feedback on habits or style.
  • Avoid to elaborate on mistakes or misconceptions the pupil doesn't usually commit or follow by him/herself. As far as the pupil has problems to deal with a particular opponent's misplay, he/she will ask you anyway. Analysis that refers to arbitrary "misconceptions of kyu players", rather than to the troubles the particular pupil really is concerned with, rarely suits a personal lesson.
  • Do not overrun the pupil's focus. Being told solutions to other problems than one is hoping to get solved can be disturbing and is often ineffective.
  • Be aware that the pupil realises your comments according to his/her current understanding of and associations with the go terms you use (e. g. territory, influence, thickness, attack etc.), which may be quite different from yours. Even if the meaning is clarified later on, some of the original misinterpretation of your comment tends to "stick" in memory. Therefore, each time a comment uses such terms, that use should comply with their present meaning to the pupil. If that is too far off, fall back to other words.

Supplementary stuff (notes to myself):

  • First off, accept the fact that the pupil sees, thinks and plays the way s/he does. Aside from improving the efficiency of teaching, such acceptance makes, not at least, the pupil feel comfortable in the lessons. Start from the pupil's current point of view rather than from abstract concepts. Preferrably, choose examples from or related to the pupil's games.
  • Care about the pupil's comments and questions, and give feedback to the pupils ideas; use the pupils words where possible instead of explaining it another way. When the pupils talks or asks about own ideas or perceptions, s/he is interested in and concerned with them, which is the most advantageous precondition for efficient teaching.
  • Give enough room to the pupil to develop own ideas; e. g. by more open questions, as opposed to ones with a fixed set of answers.
  • Unlike the medium arrow in my "BoardState1 -> Conception1 -> Conception2 -> BoardState2" model, which can be explained verbally rather well, the outer ones have to grow, like a vegetable: what is needed isn't pulling them up from above, but pouring the roots, drop by drop, little by little.
  • Watching other teachers' lessons can be helpful, too.

-- Also interesting: Hu's Teaching Method and his Triplet of Triplets

If this site is free for comment... sonst magst du es auch löschen. Tapir

blubb: Welcome.

You write: it's hard enough for the teacher to guess, or understand, what the pupil wants or what s/he's actually concerned with. So, it can be very useful to a teacher to take care about every hint about it he can get.

Actually, a teacher may ask the pupil before a lesson what he's concerned with. He even should do so... You can then continue teaching by asking. The single most effective method of mine is asking "What did you plan to achieve by this move?"

blubb: Yep, I ask that, too. It often helps both sides.

What I found most helpful was to play a game (which may be left unfinished) with the pupil first, commenting on it later. Seeing someone in action, later demonstrating/discussing lines you would play, or going back and switching colors for that matter may be very helpful. For sure you should not pretend that you are always right... for this is my learning experience, I read the game comment of Toshiro Kageyama at the end of his famous book, and said wow... He comments on a game he won against the Meijin, saying this was his best game ever and he still comments on his mistakes. This gives so much confidence.

blubb: Actually, I don't like the notion of "mistakes" in Go very much. It suggest one could reasonably expect to play perfect moves throughout a game, which, in my view, would be pretty silly an expectation. Regardless of whether you are 30k or 9p, it makes sense to strive for the best you can do - no less, no more. Anyway, I see your point.

But there is a disagreement as well, I disliked your comment on your mainpage somewhat. I don't believe it is necessary to be 10 grades stronger than your pupil. 10 grades may be enough to pretend you are right always, but you still are not, and it may be the wrong teaching method from the beginning. (Intimidating more than encouraging.)

blubb: Oh, I didn't even imagine that dialog could be misunderstood so badly. If you have read it all, together with this page above - sorry, then I perhaps can't help. Not only is every teacher's understanding of Go inherently limited, but it is essential for him/her to be aware of those limits. What I'd call good teaching, takes more attention for the pupil than a teacher usually can afford if the game is so tough s/he's being kept busy with finding the next move alone. To really sense and meet the pupil's needs, to be fully available for questions, you need to actually be free and able to care. Intimidating the pupil with your perceived superiority couldn't be farther off.

Tapir: I have some trouble to connect the dialogue there, to the good advices here. Maybe it is good enough, if the teacher demonstrates what he would do and why he thinks it is better instead of proclaiming this is bad, you shouldn't do this, (the demonstration may improve teacher and pupils positional judgement at te same time)... this is a bad habit, which is somehow common in my experience in teaching joseki etc. And you can do this with people of your strength as well, as with pupils weaker than you... not only with pupils at least 10 ranks weaker. On the contrary quite often a player so much stronger tends to explain too advanced concepts instead of adding to the basics step by step.

And during play, actually there is no need for the teacher to show superiority all the time. Playing e.g. 9x9 with white against somehow only some stones weaker it is not necessary at all for the teacher to win! You can create 2,3 nice tsumego in such a game, comment on it, discuss several moves what they accomplish... i don't mind losing in such a situation. Actually what puzzles me is that you're describing some ideal teacher who cares, encourages etc. but is so far off (10 stones) that the mere appearance of such a superiority may be intimidating as well, you couldn't even see your progress through reduced handicap stones, an occasional win etc. when your teacher is so much stronger. 2nd you may need a teacher after 3k as well... That's in a way what I meant with the Kageyama example, he is so much stronger but still makes you feel that you can be strong a day too, still making bad moves, or mistakes, but ever smaller ones.

blubb: It looks like you and I, we are referring to different degrees of a game being a "teaching" game. Of course, games between players just 2 or 3 stones apart can turn out to entail a lesson or two. In fact, people of similar strength can learn a whole lot by merely playing with each other and rewieving their games. However, in the dedicated kind of lessons I am referring to, the main focus of the teacher is the pupil rather than who wins. The teacher doesn't win all the time there, either, but that's mostly a side effect of the teacher adapting to the pupil's play.

On the 3k pupil: Right, I made that suggestion of a 10 stones optimum when I was KGS 9k, and obviously, the optimal rank difference (see below) gets smaller at higher ranks. I suppose, it would roughly correspond to a particular win ratio if the teacher and the pupil were to play competetively (using their "teaching" settings). A teacher who could win, say, 95 % of those games, may be sufficiently candid and neutral. (Whether s/he really is, that's a different kettle of fish.)

For a particular pupil's advancement alone, the strongest possible teacher is naturally the best choice (ceteris paribus). A strong teacher is free to focus on the pupil, and the pupil can learn straight on for long. From a global viewpoint though, if they are too far apart, that's wasted ressources, because the teacher could likewise teach someone in between, who again could teach the other pupil, without much loss of quality in the transfer of knowledge and abilities.

On the other hand, if teachers are not enough stronger than their respective pupils, quality is affected. Not only is such a teacher too involved in dealing with the actual play (whether or not s/he'll win), so there's not much room for him/her to guide the game and create situations deemed helpful for the pupil, but also, the learning path of the pupil will be meandering unnecessarily.

Of course, these figures are very general; there are likely to be exceptions.

Rubilia/teaching last edited by blubb on December 31, 2007 - 11:59
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