by Phil Simborg
13 November 2012
As a backgammon teacher I used to think my job was to provide my students with information. With knowledge, ideas, strategies and tools to improve their game. A few years ago I realized that I was not fully doing my job. Students were not coming to me for just information, they were coming to me for "skill."
You see, I had many students who knew the take points and the concepts of when to double, and they knew the basic principles of how to play the checkers. And they had learned many of the tools and shortcuts to improve their game. But when it came time to play, over the board, they were often not applying what they knew. They would "forget," or become lazy, or simply not take the time to go through all the calculations needed to make the more complex decisions. Counting pips was tedious so they often just guessed at cube decisions instead of carefully calculating them.
Of course this was not true of all my students—many quickly proved their skill over the board and began moving up in class, winning tournaments, and even winning the championships of their clubs, city, and country. But far too many were not able to completely transfer knowledge into working skill.
One day, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that day was not so very long ago, I realized that the fault was not all theirs. I realized that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to show them how to use what they have learned in practical ways. So I began to revise my overall teaching philosophy and lesson plans with this end goal in mind.
First, however, I gave a lot of thought as to what was stopping people from using what they know over the board, and I identified 4 key causes:
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I believe that what you say can be summarized in the simple fact that it is fun to understand, recognize and react in different ways to different patterns. If you make sure that your students go through these steps, I believe that you will succeed in your goals. A simple example would be if you have 2 students and you want to explain them the Nacel count. Break down the Nacel technique to many parts and teach them the first part. Then give them positions which are interesting cube problems and require a pip count and can be solved by that part only. One of the students should decide if he will double the other student and the other should decide if he should take, like they would if they were playing in a tournament against each other. Repeat for the other parts and finally mix the parts. Adjust how complicated/big each part is depending on the capabilities/interest of the students.
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