It was like any other end of the month Thursday, writes Ian Banbury (St.Cleer). The day spent at work, the journey home, “Hello Love!”, a quick kiss, turn the computer on to check the emails and there it was … An innocuous enough email from Phil Tremain explaining that due to illness, someone had to pull out of the ringing teachers' training session that Saturday and was anyone interested in taking up the place. Having got a learner at our tower, I thought I’d give him a ring to see if the place was still available. It was.
This was swiftly followed by a couple of emails; one from the course tutor welcoming me to the course and another with the course programme and Phil asking what type of pasty I wanted for lunch. Maybe I should have looked at the course programme before committing myself (to what Phil assured me is one of the best pasties in Cornwall) and noted the number of theory and practical sessions that filled the day … Oh well, too late now, I was committed to a steak pasty.
A slightly overcast Saturday morning saw the 30 miles to St Columb Major disappear far quicker than the sat nav lady said it would. Not sure if that’s a statement the police shouldn’t see, an indication of the lightness of traffic, or a mighty endorsement of our Cornish roads? Anyway I arrived a bit early and was the first to sample the coffee and biscuits; the kettle and spoon deftly wielded by Denise. In fact I must thank Denise for keeping us hydrated and nourished throughout the day.
In plenty of time for the start of the programme, the ten aspiring trainee teachers had duly assembled and like all good courses a round of introductions took place. Apart from us trainees we were joined by A.R.T. members Phil, Brian and Peter offering their help and advice as more experienced ringing teachers and by the course tutor Pip Penney. Coffee cups safely stowed away, we launched headlong into the first theory session. This was about the importance of using four levels of instruction; verbal, demonstration, prompting and physically helping. The importance of providing constructive feedback to reinforce something done well and to make the learner aware of when something hasn’t gone quite as well. The benefit of when an action has a fault, breaking it down into its component parts, putting it right and putting it back together again, or whole-part-whole as it was called.
This was followed by a gentle stroll down the path in the warm morning air to the tower for a practical session on the basic components. How by making a ring with your hand, you can demonstrate to the learner the feel of moving the hands and arms in a way that will encourage the rope to follow a straight vertical path, rather than wobbling all over the place. How to ring part up and concentrate on the backstroke, with correct finishing position of the hands, is an essential skill to get right early on. We then moved on to the learner ringing just the back stroke and then just the hand stroke. Time for coffee, we made our way back up the path to the “classroom”.
Refreshments done, we headed back down the pathway that was by now being gently bathed in imperceptible mizzle, to our next session on putting the two strokes together. We were shown the hand transfer exercise using a bell that is down, adding touching the sally, to a bell rung part up, like we did earlier. Then getting the student to pull off a bell and concentrate on the backstroke alone. As confidence is gained the student can mimic the teacher’s movement at pulling the hand stroke, eventually doing the odd hand stroke every now and again until told to do the next two, then three etc. It was by now lunchtime and we headed back through the drizzle to the deal clinching pasty. Phil wasn’t wrong … it was ‘ansum!
Lunch was followed by an introduction to what it means to teach and especially how it relates to ringing. How to understand your own learning style and how to appreciate that no two people will learn in exactly the same way. With the point being, that we need to adjust our method to best fit the learner. Next on the agenda was a brisk walk through the persistent drizzle, back to the tower where we practiced ways to make the process of ringing up, or down, as user friendly as possible for a learner. How to creep up (and down) the rope. How by them pulling the bell over the balance and then just doing the backstroke, by creeping up the rope, the bell comes down until it is doing exactly what they already know from the part rung up bell. How to handle coils and putting it all together. All this raising and lowering had brought on a thirst and so everyone filed down the spiral stairs and hurried through the gentle rain to a welcoming cup of tea & cake.
The final theory session was about solving common problems, the best advice being that prevention is better than trying to cure a learnt and ingrained problem. When a problem is spotted it needs to be corrected through practice and repetition, broken down through whole-part-whole and practiced until perfect. Basically reinforcing the message of the first theory session all that time ago. This led into the final practical session, a journey of self-discovery. Some of our number offered themselves on a sacrificial platter to ring as they would normally and have the rest of us try and spot their faults and come up with ideas for corrective actions. This was undertaken in a friendly and supportive environment ... all a bit like 'Strictly' but without the back-slapping!
A last dash through the rain along the path to the classroom, was for a final discussion on the day’s activities, the Smart Ringer website and the further process of accreditation needed to be recognised as members of the Association of Ringing Teachers.
Safely tucked away in my car heading back up the A30 through the now torrential rain and gales, I reflected on a day well spent. I had met ringers with years more experience than myself and yet here we are together, at the beginning of a new journey and challenge to guide and advise the next generation of ringers. A challenge that I hope I can live up to.
Practical advice for teachers, right from the first lesson.