Thinking allowed

teaching and learning

For the last few weeks our ringing teacher has been away on an extended holiday. This means that I have to run practices, and that I have to deal with learners. Of course, we are all learners, and there are various ringers in the band at different stages.

One of the band, R, is just at the stage of being able to plain hunt on the treble reasonably competently, and beginning to take the step of trying to ring Bob Doubles on bell 2. At one practice where we had just enough competent ringers I stood behind R and helped him count his place. Learning to count one’s place is a big step — moving from the security of following known bells in a known order to having to acquire ropesight and see which position you should be ringing in. The very concept of ‘place’ can be difficult to get hold of, let alone move to. So the two of us sat down after practice and went through some of the theory of places and blue lines. When I was doing this myself I gradually made sense of it by reading and trying to understand the theory and then trying to ring it. Week by week I made a little progress until it had clicked into place. We shall have to see whether this works for R.

Some of our other ringers can just about ring a plain course of Bob Doubles on bell 2, and now they need to move to a different bell, so that between us we can ring Plain Bob more often (as well as aspire to greater things; but Plain Bob Doubles will do for now!). One thing that helps them get through a plain course is to be reminded what action they need to take each time the treble leads. When I am ringing bell 5 for a plain course the ‘partner bell’ is number 2. This is the bell that is dodging 3-4 down when you are dodging 3-4 up and vice versa, and is making long fifths when you are making 2nds, and vice versa. So it is fairly easy to tell this ‘partner bell’ what to do: either dodge with me, up or down as I am dodging down or up; or stay at the back when I am staying at the front (and when they make 2nds that’s rounds).

A little bit harder is to tell one of the other bells what to do, since they are busy dodging with a different bell. This morning I was able to tell bell 4 each time what they should be doing. I knew that at the first lead end they needed to be making long fifths, and was therefore able to work out, as we were ringing that at the next lead end they should be dodging 3-4 up, whilst at the same time not forgetting that I needed to be making 2nds. And then at the next lead end they should be making 2nds and I should be dodging 3-4 down. It’s nice to be able to have time to think about what another bell should be doing whilst having enough time to remember what to do myself, and at the same time still be counting my own place and ringing in that place. For a long time when I first saw this done I was amazed at the ability of the conductor to keep these different bells’ courses in his head. Now I find that I can do a little of this too, even if it is only one other bell in a plain course of Bob Doubles!


Those who can, teach…

A long time ago, when I was at school, we used to recite a trite little aphorism: ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. Presumably our intention was to convince ourselves of our superiority over our teachers.

On Saturday, on a misty morning, I drove across the fens to Downham Market, to attend a training day, organized by the diocesan association of bellringers. The day was about teaching beginners to handle a bell, and to take their first steps at ringing backstrokes and then handstrokes.

Richard Pargeter, the association’s training officer, first led a dozen or so would-be teachers through the basics of learning to ring, handicapped only by the want of a cable to connect his laptop to the projector — although this lack of a Powerpoint accompaniment was no great handicap. As well as the basics of what the beginner needs to learn, the teacher must also be aware of what might go wrong, and be able to cope with potential disasters and put right lesser mistakes. After coffee we trooped over to the church, and Richard demonstrated these points with the aid of a complete and willing novice. After an hour of teaching her and demonstrating to us this brave soul was confident at ringing backstrokes, and able to try ringing handstroke and backstroke.

In the afternoon, we were ourselves let loose to supervise some volunteer novices and pseudo-novices. When you know how to ring, and are starting to teach then you realize how dangerous it can be for a beginner, and how ill-equipped you feel to cope. So I was quite pleased to stand in front of a novice and have her ring backstrokes while I rang the handstrokes; and then to have her ring a few handstrokes as well as backstrokes. She was quite good at this, but then I realized that she had no idea how to stand the bell, and I would have to do this. Lesson to be learnt — always have an exit strategy, preferably before you get going.

Back to that old jibe about teachers. Nasty little boys that we were, we added another clause: ‘and those who can’t teach, teach teachers’. And that was certainly not true on Saturday. Richard Pargeter is not only a very experienced ringer, but has taught many others to ring over a period of 20 years or so. His booklet One Way to teach Bell Handling, published by the Central Council, summarizes his approach to teaching novice ringers, and his comments on theory and practice made him an excellent teacher of novice teachers. I and others came away with knowledge and confidence to begin to teach our own beginners — all in all a good day’s work.