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Doing Taster Sessions

After all the research, it was time to start ringing.....

It is fair to say that within fifteen minutes of the first session, I had abandoned most of my elaborate syllabus, with all the games and warm-up exercises.  The self-possessed young students made it very clear what they wanted to do:  they wanted to ring the bells, they wanted to do it two-in-hand, and they wanted to do it properly.  They wanted ‘to do what Thomas was doing’.

In the introductory session of both groups, I started by letting them handle a bell, and experiment with different ways of making it ring, and then using that to move to how change ringers make it ring.  We used an exaggerated ‘painting the wall’ technique to get the correct wrist movement.  We also established a procedure for safe handling of the bells.  As we did this I started introducing terms like ‘handstroke’ and ‘backstroke’, ‘up’ and ‘down’, ‘trebles’ and ‘tenors’, and other vocabulary.  Then we would do some plain hunting on bodies.

The children enjoyed the opening and closing rituals of washing their hands beforehand, laying out the bells in pairs on the soft cloth ‘head to tail’ so they wouldn’t clash, and giving the bells a polish before putting them away (in the right slots of course).  They also were thrilled to have the responsibility for handling a ‘very expensive musical instrument’, and with some reinforcement, were more careful of the bells than most ringers get to be!

Our first block of pupils divided very rapidly between those who got the knack of handstroke and backstroke, and striking on both positions, and those who did not.  So the remaining three weeks were divided into a ‘ringing’ group and a ‘handling’ group, with Simon taking the ringing group along with Thomas, who was being a steady ringer for the club.  We rotated the children around, so that everybody got reinforcement on handling, as well as exposure to rounds, call changes and eventually plain hunting on six.  By the last session, everyone had managed to complete a plain hunt (some with quite a lot of help).

We layered these sessions with other activities that included the whole group together, including the following activities:

  1. Ringing rounds, back rounds, and queens on 6, 8 or 10 bells:  this was quite popular, especially two-in-hand.  They weren’t interested in just one bell each.  It was good for building up a good rhythm.
  2. Clapping.  This was a good exercise for working on the handstroke gap, but it wasn’t popular, as it took time away from ringing.
  3. Practising plain hunt all together, with everyone ringing the 1-2 pair and using Abel to ring the rest.  This didn’t work at all, for various reasons.

One of the biggest problems we found was that we quickly reached a point where some explaining had to take place, but we hadn’t quite cracked how to do that and still keep their attention.   ‘Math panics’ happened, because a worksheet or whiteboard with numbers on it caused some children to worry that they couldn’t do it.  Just walking them through the ringing of plain hunt and then telling them what they did afterwards helped them make more sense of it.   

Confusion between left and right was also a challenge, though we were prepared for that (thanks Judith!).  Having coloured wristbands helped this a lot.  Even after they stopped using them, saying ‘red hand first’ still works better than ‘right hand first’.

A bigger problem was a reference confusion:  how to distinguish between bell numbers and place numbers.  This is a known problem in ringing terminology, but working with the children really emphasized it.

Next: Learning from Mistakes