13 May, 2006
Interview with Ross Allengame: Castlemaine Primary School
Ross Allengame has been using chess in the classroom for twenty years.
He has produced a state chess champion and several really gifted players. I can recall one of Ross’s year 5 pupil’s entering the Castlemaine Chess Club 10 years ago, and trouncing all of us, and dazzling us with his acumen over the board.
Ross regularly uses chess as a part of his teaching repertoire. Sometimes he sets up a few boards and plays some students simultaneously while the rest of the class looks, on engrossed in the games, and offering suggestions.
During the tutorial I gave to Ross’s class, before the interview, his students were totally engrossed in their games, and they played for nearly an hour and a half. Some students played three games in a row and were biting at the bit for a fourth game. I have never witnessed such a high level of sustained concentration, enthusiasm and pleasure shown in a class activity before. The students discussed the moves with each other and were intellectually engaged with their games for the greater part of the lesson.
I asked Ross why he uses chess in his classes. I was searching for some pedagogical insight as I had already gleaned that Ross was interested in learning theory.
Ross waved his hand and said, “Look around you.” He spoke of their fascination with the game and their sustained interest and then went onto say, “Chess works!”
After the lesson, Ross and I discussed teaching theory. Ross said his approach was to ask the kids what they want to do and empower them. He sees his approach as vastly different from what he called the jug mug method of pouring content down kid’s throats.
He sees teaching at its best when teachers become facilitators of education and inspire students to become independent learners. Ross believes chess helps develop this spirit in young students and this is why he has been such a keen advocate and practitioner of chess in the classroom.
One more word on the virtues of chess and I think an opinion that is supported by all the research. Ross had a difficult student once who had behavioral problems and was disorganized. One of Ross’s solutions was to introduce him to chess. Ross reports it had miraculous results. The boy turned into a fine chess player. Ross says it gave the boy a sense of control and a chance to beat the teacher. The key message Ross conveyed in our discussion was that chess motivated students, improved their concentration, and stimulated intellectual activity.
Just as I was leaving South School two year 6 boys walked up to me and said they were glad I was coming back next week and added, ‘We like chess, it is fun, and it makes us think’.