Keep your ringers ringing

How to take the step from novice to improver

The new ringer has learned to handle a bell and is now ready to ring rounds with others. The next stage of their learning experience will be very different. The teacher and new ringer have been working together intensively on a one to one basis. The new ringer has been at the centre of the teacher’s attention.

Now the learning curve will flatten out. As the ringer progresses towards elementary change ringing they will have to wait their turn to ring on practice nights. Progress often seems hard to achieve, which can lead to frustration. Interest and motivation often wane.

As the keen new ringer or novice moves on to become a developing ringer or improver the teacher faces a big challenge in keeping the ringer interested and motivated. In any activity this is a time when participants drop out.

Developing self awareness in our ringers

A good teacher must be aware of these potential problems and encourage the developing ringer to become self aware, both of bell handling style and listening, so that good striking can be developed independently even if the teacher is not present. A simulator is an excellent way to help a developing ringer tune into intrinsic feedback and help improve listening skills. The ringer can start by ringing the tenor behind. As the skill develops the ringer can ring an inside bell in rounds and over time can move on to ringing Plain Hunt, methods and larger numbers of bells.

Teachers should help the developing ringer to use his or her own internal (intrinsic) feedback through the ears to improve listening skills and help improve striking.

In the tower, listening and striking can be developed on as few as 3 or 4 bells. The advantage of using low numbers of bells is that few helpers are required and it is easy to distinguish the sound of one bell. Arranging practices for the obvious benefit of one or two developing ringers helps to reinforce the feeling that they are valued as individuals, which is in itself motivating.

Kaleidoscope sequences can be used such as Treble Bob Hunt or Cambridge front work can be used to develop the skill of moving the bell with accuracy. These training sessions have the added advantage of adding variety to the developing ringers’ experience that will help to maintain interest.

Improving understanding

A ringer’s curiosity can be satisfied by understanding the background to ringing. Theory should be taught to promote understanding and maintain interest. During later stages this accumulation of understanding will assist in the learning of more advanced methods. At each stage, teachers should ensure the ringer’s practical skills are under-pinned by theoretical knowledge.

Opportunity to assist with maintenance tasks in the belfry and through this gain an understanding of the mechanics of bells may be of interest to some ringers and help them to feel more involved.

Changes in the teaching relationship

Novices do not know what they do not know yet! They tend to hang on to every word and demonstration of the teacher. However, as they develop and learn more, often their self-image changes. The underlying problem is that the developing ringer may have sufficient understanding to achieve current performance but insufficient understanding to realise or accept that things are worth improving and how much skill they still need to develop.

There is often a dilemma at this stage between what the ringer “wants to learn” versus what the teacher feels the ringer “needs to learn”. Ringers often want to move on to ringing more complex methods before they can ring the methods they are currently practising with accuracy.

Ringer’s expectations – what are the ringer’s goals?

A teacher should develop goals with the ringer. A teacher cannot expect a ringer to accept a training programme if it has merely been imposed on them. Discussion with the developing ringer is crucial. By forcing expectations on to a ringer a teacher runs the risk of scaring ringers off. Learning the Ropes provides a system of progressive goals for teachers to use with their ringers.

Broader horizons – ringing out and about

There comes a point where the developing ringer has a good enough basic technique and foundation skills for the teacher to start to encourage them to go out and about to other practices. Up to this point the teacher has been ever present – teaching, motivating, reminding, demonstrating good practice. But now the ringer is frequently without this support. All too easily striking can start to slip if other ringers around don’t exhibit good striking.

As ringers move on to the world of change ringing they are often less interested in how they are ringing and more interested in learning new methods. Bad habits can easily appear, undermining prospects for future performance.

If someone learns to ring in a band where the striking is poor they will have less opportunity for learning to strike well. In these cases there is a risk that the ringers are likely to get bored and under-stimulated, to lose motivation and to stop ringing.

Pydar Improvers

In the Deanery of Pydar in Cornwall, Phil Tremain runs a group called Pydar Improvers [Pimps for short]. Ringers start at the point when they can ring rounds. The group is designed for those who can benefit from extra practice in a friendly and supportive environment. The improvers have the opportunity to ring with experienced helpers. One of Phil’s objectives is to make these practices “something people want to be at”.

The band at neighbouring Padstow had dwindled to a few ringers. Brian Woods [who attended an ART Module 1 Day Course in January 2012, was mentored by Phil and is now an ART Member] recruited and trained several new ringers. These ringers now ring with the Pydar Improvers, greatly benefiting from the extra ringing and enjoying the social side of the outings.

Similar opportunities for developing ringers can be created, for example, by extra sessions at ringing centres or dedicated courses run over several weeks.

The transition from novice to improver is a high-risk time for losing ringers. By paying particular attention to a ringer during this period we may help more ringers progress to the point where they are really enjoying their ringing and are less likely to give up.


Teacher's Guide to Learning the Ropes

A book for any ringing teacher, covering the “how to” from the first bell handling lesson to teaching someone how to ring their first method.

The Teacher's Guide and its companion publication The Ringer's Guide to Learning the Ropes are both available from the ART shop.

Pip Penney