Teaching new recruits using Ringing Room

I won’t lie: I was nervous. I’d approached some friends of mine, each of whom had come with me to a bell tower at some point and been intrigued, but both of whom lived in rural Pennsylvania, well outside a reasonable distance to the nearest tower. I’d asked them if they wanted to try learning to ring on this new thing that had just come out: Ringing Room, a virtual bell tower.

Of course, they wouldn’t be able to learn bell handling as such, but it was a chance to have fun learning the puzzle­-and-­game aspect of ringing that so many people actually consider the real draw card of the exercise. Alarmingly, they scavenged together a group of eight and gave me a night of the week that would work for them.

I hadn’t come up through Learning the Ropes. I hadn’t gone through the ART Training Scheme. However, what I did have was decades of experience in teaching everything from writing, history, and risk management to karate, fencing, and acting. I knew how to tailor my teaching to specific groups, how to make everything I taught directly relevant to specific goals for the learners, and how to construct learning sessions that built confidence as well as skills.

I decided to make each lesson only a half-­hour long. That way, nobody would feel that the lessons were a burden, and they’d be able to finish each lesson exhilarated and eager for more, rather than exhausted and overwhelmed. Next, I decided to use a 'flipped classroom' approach, where the learners would spend a few days ahead of the lesson going over the tutorial materials that I had produced myself to bring them through a progression of skills specifically with virtual ringing in mind. During the lesson, they would apply those skills by actually ringing.

Because these learners were highly motivated adults (mostly because lockdown was making them antsy and they were desperate for novelty), I knew I could trust them to go over the materials in advance.

The four­-week module had a number of overall learning outcomes that guided my choices in designing each lesson. These were explicitly stated using 'action verbs': the objective was to elicit behaviours that would demonstrate the learners’ competence. If I couldn’t see and hear them ringing competently, I would know I had more work to do. There was no point having, “Learners will understand this and that”, as a learning outcome. What does 'understand' look like? What does it sound like? How can you tell from the outside whether someone understands? Instead, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to be able to see the learners doing.

Each week’s materials had several learning activities that supported these outcomes.

Learners encountered bellringing history, engineering, culture, and theory through the inclusion of links to videos, articles, and other resources. This supported the learning outcomes by helping them visualize what they were doing in Ringing Room in terms of what a physical bell and rope would be doing, and give them a chance to see and hear people using bellringing vocabulary, and thus to understand it better.

Moreover, it would support their engagement with the material by helping them feel that they were welcome members of the ringing community, giving them a context for understanding ringing’s appeal and its historical place in society.

Learners began assimilating the vocabulary of ringing based on a list of thoroughly explained terms and concepts relative to the learning material for that week; this, too, was to help them feel like a part of the community, but also to start thinking about ringing in a more technical way and to be prepared for the ringing terms I would be using with them that week.

The actual practice of ringing included one or two fundamental concepts that they would learn by doing, based on the concepts that they had read about during the week: rounds and basic vocabulary in the first lesson; dodging and making places in the second; counting places in the third; and, gloriously, plain hunt in the fourth.

Each week’s lesson provided a scaffold for the next, leading ultimately to the ability to plain hunt. In four weeks they didn’t necessarily commit everything to memory, but they had the skills they needed to progress: they could move up, move down, or stay in the same place; they could read a blue line; and they could count their places. I made sure they knew that they weren’t just learning these skills to have something to do, but to give them authentic, practical competence that they would be using continually for as long as they wanted to ring and no matter how far they advanced.

Moreover, the learners got to know the traditions and rituals that would have become familiar to them had they been able to ring in a real tower: how to treble and cover, what “go next” and “that’s all” mean, when to stand, what to do when you make a mistake, and (of course) the all-important art of banter and tower chat (often taking the form of lengthy and digression­-filled discussions based on the questions they asked me about the material – just like in a real tower!). I thought of them as real ringers, and that’s how they learned to think of themselves.

Of course, things didn’t always go smoothly. Technical issues from the small (“I don’t own any headphones”) to the large (“My screen’s just gone blank”, “I suddenly can’t hear anything”) plagued the first two lessons in particular, as everyone (including me; Ringing Room was still very much under development at the time) got more familiar with the technology.

Occasionally someone wouldn’t quite get a concept, and the ringing would fall in a heap as the whole band, beginners all, tried and failed to figure out where they were supposed to be. I usually let this happen, because the struggle itself expanded their awareness of other bells and the overall pattern they were ringing and helped them build problem-solving skills, moving them beyond a mere slavish and myopic following of the blue line.

When things ground to a halt, I modelled cheerful (albeit rueful) acceptance of the collapse and an utter refusal to blame anyone, and we reset and started again. One of the stunning advantages of Ringing Room was that this was the work of a moment, and nobody was in danger from a flailing rope or a broken stay.

Over the course of the four weeks, the learners began to set up their own practice sessions, completely on their own initiative (and, in fact, are still ringing on their own together). And – to my deep gratification – six of the original eight asked if they could keep going for another four weeks (we spent the time on an in­-depth study of Grandsire Doubles, ensuring that everyone got a chance to ring each bell in a plain course before we were done).

I would strongly encourage any ringing teacher who has either learners who had just signed on when lockdown hit or proto­-learners who have never laid hand to rope to start taking advantage of Ringing Room as soon as possible as a teaching forum. In fact, Ringing Room has been invaluable during lockdown as a teaching tool at all levels.

I’m confident that it will continue to be an excellent way to bring new learners up to speed on the concepts they’ll encounter in the tower in due course. After all, why should they have to learn bell handling and theory while frantically trying to avoid carnage and humiliation as they attempt to manage everything at once?

The lesson plans I used for my first group of virtual­-only ringers are available from the Files section of the Ringing Room Take­-Hold Lounge on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ groups/873214286480660/files/), or by emailing me at info@lauraegoodin.com. (Note: they are a moving target, and I intend to keep revising them as I teach more groups of learners, so if there’s anything you disagree with or have questions about, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.)

By the way, the other day one of that first group of learners asked me whether I’d be willing to keep going with a third module. (Reader, I said yes.)

Learning Outcomes for Introduction to Virtual Change Ringing

By the end of the module, learner will be able to:

  • Ring rounds, dodge, and ring the Mexican wave with regular striking and few to no errors.
  • Ring Plain Hunt reading from the blue line.
  • Use standard ringing vocabulary when trebling and discussing the learning materials.

  • Laura E. Goodin