Teaching Go to weaker players discussion


Dieter, posting a few ideas on teaching which are not yet included in the pages about teaching go to newcomers or how to teach go (which currently is an index page). The term weaker players is used here to make the difference with absolute beginners and in a comparative sense.

There are basically two ways for me to teach Go:

  1. Commenting games
  2. Introducing new concepts

1. Commenting games

1.1. Off-line comments

Mostly done through the GTL. When I review a game, I first go through it to have an idea of the general level of play. Also I take into account the circumstances under which it was played. Depending on whether it was a fast game, I include more and deeper tactical variations (slow - deep, fast - superficial). The second run I insert occasional comments and variations, at the end of which I get a general idea of the aspect of the game the player in question can improve most. That will most of the time be either a strategic principle, basic technique or sheer tactics.

Then I run through the game a third time, streamlining the comments so that they emphasize that very aspect. I will also erase the comments that only obfuscate the lesson or simply confuse more than enlighten. At the end I will summarize the comments into something like "You should try to play away from strength. See moves x, y, z."

The point is that it is useless to try and teach several things at a time in one single game commentary. It is better to stick with one piece of advice and show several points in the game where this principle might have been applied.

1.2 Online comments

On top of what applies in offline games, I will include exercises during the comment, such as: "Are those stones strong or weak ?" "Strong". "So where would you play, knowing they are strong?" Here too, I think it is important to choose a theme and review the game from the perspective of the theme.

That will also help in keeping the analysis short. There is no point in teaching twice as long as the game duration: people get tired, and the only person really interested will be the teacher himself.

2. Introducing new concepts

This I will rather do on club nights, where unfortunately this mere 2 dan is the strongest player. Much in line with the game commentary, my guidelines are: simple, repeat and positive.

1.1 Simple

The hardest thing for a teacher is probably to steer away from subjects that he finds interesting, because he's on the verge of grasping those principles himself. Although a discussion between peers on such a subject can be very interesting, a teacher teaching weaker players should be confident with the matter so as to have a natural authority during the lesson.

The next hardest thing is to stick with the subject and not to lose oneself in the tactical discussion that will undoubtedly follow. Especially when weaker players take advantage of the lecture to teach even weaker players about something they know. The bottom line of the lecture must be clear and simple. It is good to allow some discussion, because activity in the learning process is to be encouraged, but the teacher should keep a clear view on what subject matter is to be treated.

1.2 Repeat

Saying something once and then moving on to another subject is almost useless. It is better to repeat a few concepts several times, with different examples, than to introduce new concepts all the time.

1.3 Positive

In a game comment or a lecture, I try to praise good moves rather than criticize bad ones, because I believe people are happier to remember the moves that were met with enthusiasm. This is a dilemma however, because I also believe it is more effective to unlearn bad habits than to learn interesting moves.

BobMcGuigan: Sometimes you can get your student to recognized his/her own bad moves by asking what happened as a result of that move. At least this can work when the consequences are close in time to the mistake.

Weaker players are often bewildered by the task of reading. I like to recommend reading three moves. That is, their own proposed move, their opponent's answer, and their response to that. If they can do that they'll avoid a lot of "hasty move" mistakes and eventually be able to read farther with confidence.

I also like Kageyama's advice about the endgame: "Think first about not answering".

tartuffe: Regarding GTL and other offline game commentary, I think a fast response is critical for meaningful commentary. This is especially true with beginners, as they progress quickly. In my opinion, do not accept an offline review request unless you will complete it quickly (dan-level reviewers might be exempt from this, considering the scarcity of and demand for their ability).

Bob McGuigan: When I get involved in teaching weaker players I find myself feeling humble and not really knowing what to say about whether moves are good or not. I notice that pros frequently make definitive statements about a move being the best in a given position. I, not being a pro or even close to it, prefer to say something like "I wouldn't play that move" and then give reasons and explain a move I would consider in that position and why. While I do think that we can learn from people only a little stronger than we are, I also think that having weak players teach weaker players is a recipe for the student learning bad habits. Bad habits learned at one level have to be unlearned to progress and that slows things down considerably. If we all had professional teachers I'll bet we'd advance much faster.

tapir: I share this feeling as I have often enough seen players 10-15 stones stronger than the beginner teaching what I would consider as bad habits. (I don't know whether I have done the same.) Offering your own teaching as advice not as absolute knowledge may help, another technique is asking for the players own assessment. So even if we have no definite answer, we can start a process of thinking about certain moves which might prove very helpful. I have seen professionals teaching that way, and while it may leave the pupil unsatisfied in the beginning for a perceived lack of direct input by the professional. It certainly teaches you a lot. While criticism should be handled with care, especially if you don't know with whom you are speaking, my general impression is that players who are able to criticise themselves and are masochistic enough to be able to bear criticism of their moves are improving faster. Also, praise given when merited encourages more than an overdose of praise on the dozen of moves you happen to play correctly even in the worst game. Finally, one should only comment when asked for.

Teaching Go to weaker players discussion last edited by tapir on December 19, 2010 - 02:37
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