26th February 2016

Teaching Beyond Bell Handling

How often do you stand behind a learner? Are you good at it or could you do better? This book has a section on Standing behind. In this extract, the author, Richard Pargeter, shares his thoughts on this often neglected topic.

While knowing the method is a necessary qualification for standing behind, there’s a lot more to it than that. When it doesn’t go well, it’s tempting to blame the learner after all everything you said was right, so why couldn’t he act on it? Well, if he didn’t understand, maybe you weren’t talking his language, or maybe you were saying too much, and proving a distraction. Ask yourself, why are you standing behind? Is it to instill confidence? Is it to supply the blue line? Is it to reconnect the learner with the blue line if some aberration disconnects him? Is it to help him see where he is? The answer, I think is that you have to be prepared to do all these things, with the exception of supplying the blue line. If you need to do that your learner had better go and do some bookwork.

Having decided what you’re trying to do, you need to work out how to do it. And I mean work it out. Your job is to communicate with the learner as quickly and effectively as possible, and that means on his terms. The nature of the advice you will give will depend on the way his mind works, the stage he is at, what jargon he knows, in short, on him, and since learners are individuals, your technique will have to be individual too.

I once saw frustration building as the tutor kept telling the learner (who was trying to ring Plain Hunt) what position she was in, whereas all she wanted to know, when she got lost, was who she was following. Fortunately relationships and the atmosphere in that tower were good, and the learner was able to sort this out amicably, with no harm done beyond a wasted touch. Not all learners will feel able to voice their problems, however (always assuming they realise what the difficulty is). It is the tutor’s job to be sensitive to the learner’s needs, and not the other way round. Now, it is arguable, in this particular case, that the learner didn’t know what was best for her. Learning to ring plain hunt without gaining an appreciation of where you are, is not good in the long term. There does come a point where you need to do a little more than point out the bells to follow, but the point I am trying to make here is it’s no use if the learner doesn’t understand. If you want to progress in that way, you must prepare the learner. (As a footnote, a few months later, in the same tower, I heard the same learner explaining Plain Hunt to a new recruit, in terms of places; she had indeed succeeded in using the numbers of the bells as a stepping stone, rather than an end in themselves.)

Another easy way of destroying a touch is to refer to half and whole turns in Stedman, to someone who isn’t sufficiently familiar with the terminology. In the long term, of course, jargon serves as a useful shorthand. After all, ‘Going in slow’ is a very efficient way of saying ‘you’re about to make thirds, lead wrong, one blow in seconds’, and the more brief and efficient your commands can be the better. We do need jargon, but we need to teach it. Using jargon where it is not fully or immediately understood, however, is counterproductive, and must be avoided.

I think I’ve said enough about making sure your learner understands what you are saying. The other requirement you have is to keep messages brief and efficient. Remember, every comment of yours is a distraction. Your learner is already having to think hard to find his way around, and remember the blue line, and the human brain has a limited capacity for reacting consciously to multiple stimuli. Audible comments are also one more thing to listen to, and anything which discourages listening to the bells is a bad idea. I find visual communication helpful; point to the bell to be followed rather than naming it, for example.

Having said all the above, the really tricky bit is knowing when to intervene. Is he really lost yet, or is it just a spot of nerves affecting the striking? Would a little reassurance with the blue line calm the nerves and help the striking, or would the added distraction of advice be the last straw? Well, it does get a little easier with experience, and knowing your learner helps, but we all still make mistakes. All I can say is prepare well and concentrate. It’s not easy to do well. Finally, if in doubt don’t shout. And finally finally, if someone else is standing behind, your job is to keep quiet; think very hard before adding yet another, probably unexpected, distraction.

In summary:

  • Get to know your learner first
  • Say as little as possible
  • Say it in the learner’s language

Other topics covered by the book include: The use and abuse of anchors, how to ask questions and discussion of ways to teach Plain Hunt and Plain Bob.

Where can I get it?
Teaching Beyond Bell Handling by Richard Pargeter is available from: Central Council Publications

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