The Sprotbrough Marathon Assessment Day - an Assessor's View

It was late November, and I was asked to "help out" with a backlog of assessments "in the Sheffield area". This had potential to fit well with possible visits to assorted friends and family in Sheffield on the same day.

Having been put in touch with Helen Nichols, I learned the extent of the backlog and that it was due to a teaching group who had been attending ART Modules throughout 2019, but finding dates for assessments simply hadn't worked out for various reasons.

We set about finding a mutually convenient date and venue. I was free the next weekend, but that was too short notice to get most, or everyone, together (plus it was getting close to Christmas), so we tentatively agreed the first weekend in January. This proved to be a good choice, and planning went ahead.

Helen suggested her tower of Sprotbrough would be a suitable venue, having a simulator on all 8 bells, tea & coffee available, plus a toilet! Permissions were sought and granted to use the tower for the day, and then I found out that Sprotbrough wasn't that near Sheffield - it was more Doncaster ... no matter.

As the date grew closer I began to wonder how I'd fit in 19 assessments, of M1, M2F and M2C, all in one day. Helen and I liaised closely. Some teachers needed to be there early and away by lunchtime, others could stay for the whole session, one was working in the morning but could come for the afternoon; some learners could come early and leave early, others would come late and stay for 90 minutes or so, others could stay for the whole time. Some teachers had three modules to be assessed, others had two and some, mercifully, had only one.

Name badges were suggested – for everyone. Colour coded stickers, too, denoting which modules needed to be assessed.

The day dawned fine, so it was an easy 100+ mile drive south.

At Sprotbrough, the back 6 bells had been muffled and the simulator was running.

A nervous Assessor arrived ... everyone else would know each other well, as Helen has set up local social media groups for both the teachers and the learners. They meet regularly and all help one another.

Gradually, teachers and learners arrived, and by 10 o'clock we were assembled, stickered and had tea or coffee to drink. The ringing room at Sprotbrough seemed very cosy with ten teachers, five learners and one Assessor.

I introduced myself and said that though I knew that everyone was nervous, at least they already knew each other – I knew no-one! Then a bit about how the day would work, with everyone having slots to do their teaching, starting with those who had to leave first. But before any practical work was done, there would be a group discussion on assessment points one to three for M2F & M2C, about the importance of planning sessions for the individual, the band, reviewing and forward planning. As points were made and discussed, everyone began with their name so I could add the point against their name on one of the many spreadsheets I had constructed. The learners were encouraged to take part, and it was good to find that they valued the plans and had ideas for their own progression. Some points engendered a fair bit of discussion, and everyone took part. So, everyone had contributed to the first part of their assessments. This also broke the ice a bit, with some laughter and banter around the teaching points. It also gave me a chance to begin to work out who seemed more (or less) confident in the group. Just before the ringing started, I switched to the M1 assessment and went round the room asking everyone for a safety point (including the learners). We covered a lot of points and it was good that at the end, I still found one to add.

Many of the teachers had brought along their own learners, but the group had decided to work with learners who were not theirs, for the assessments.

By 11 o'clock we were ready to ring! Those who were first, sorted out their teaching plans, put bands on the bells and the session got underway. As there were more teachers and learners than could ring at any one time (using the back 6 bells), others were talking about what they would be teaching and exercises they would use, with the learners or other teachers. It was relatively easy to mark up the spreadsheets for those who weren't ringing (theory and adapting plans to suit who wanted to do what) whilst keeping an eye on the teacher who was leading that ringing session. Also, it happened that sometimes there was more than one learner ringing at a time, so as well as the leader of the session, someone else was standing behind or offering feedback which could be noted briefly against their name on the spreadsheet.

After a few sessions, I thought a break would be good, so the kettle went on for most, whilst M1 bell handling was assessed with teacher and learner one-to-one. (No tea break for Christine!)

By 12.40, four teachers had covered 10 assessments and the spreadsheets were looking well used. Individual feedback was given before they left.

Lunch time!! Yippee!! Packed lunches came out of cool bags and others disappeared off to the local shops, returning with all sorts of contraband goodies – one teacher (yet to be assessed) made a lucky guess at one of my favourite cakes ... which made for lots of banter and laughter in the ringing room.

The ringing room was less crowded after lunch, as four teachers and one learner had gone, being replaced by one teacher and two more learners.

The sessions restarted and assessments were ticked off, again with a short break for a Module 1 bell handling in the middle. Again, individual feedback was given as each teacher came to the end of their assessment(s). The very last teacher got me on the end of a rope too, which came as a very welcome relief from a day of noting down everyone's contributions to bell handling (style was watched at all times, and feedback given if needed), foundation skill teaching and basic change ringing teaching.

Bear in mind that whilst one teacher at a time ran a session (approx. 15 minutes per assessment), other teachers were also involved with learners during the ringing. Theory was also going on out of the circle so those ringing next knew what to expect. Learners were definitely taking advantage of so much concentrated ringing with so many teachers and mentors and were asking questions. It was a hive of concentrated activity. The group work together often, visiting practices and bespoke teaching sessions, so all the teachers and learners know each other.

When going through the spreadsheets, if gaps were noted the teachers were encouraged to fill them – "a bit more of this" or "something different for that." In some cases, the lesson plans were changed completely (working with learners who weren't theirs, plus some had left early or arrived late) to fit with the ringers there at the time.

At the end of the session I was grateful that we had a little bit of straightforward ringing; no assessing, just giving someone the chance to ring something they were practising because the right mix of ringers was there at the time. Some relaxation after an extremely busy and intense (and intensive) day. Some teachers were very confident, others very nervous. All worked well and seemed happy with my feedback. Where someone was nervous during the session they led, they were relaxed at other times and their teaching style was picked up then, "When you worked with ..., you said/did this and it worked well," and "Would there be anything you could do differently to achieve …?"

I came away tired but happy, and not a little apprehensive about the time it would take to write up all the assessments and submit the recommendations for accreditation.

Each assessment took me over an hour to write up, deciphering the spreadsheets as to who had worked with whom doing what for each assessment point. Then the logbook was interrogated – lesson plans and reviews, membership declarations and quizzes passed. Thankfully, Helen had already gone through all the logbooks before the day, so there was little for me to comment on other than the review of the lesson/session.

Rose (ART Admin) had the unenviable task of processing all the recommendations and managed to get through them so that Helen could announce the successes at the Branch Meeting the next weekend.

To sum up – it was a marathon. Definitely worthwhile. It is probably easier to do a mass assessment if the group know each other, as here, as there was plenty of banter around who would ring in each touch or exercise, who would work with whom, and no reticence about actually catching hold. The day moved on well. Everyone was focused on making the most of the time, and some learners made tangible progress (in their foundation skills, method ringing, handling and style) as the sessions rolled on.

I didn't get to do my Sheffield visiting, but I met a great group of ringers – teachers and learners - who work well supporting each other, and who are committed to promoting ART in their area. And yes, I had a large G&T once I reached home!

Author: Christine Richardson