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.