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Different ways of teaching 

Over the years, I have been a tutor for about twenty modules, including the 'teaching methods' module on three occasions. Each course group has a different dynamic. I remember some years ago, the 'guinea pig' that the students were to teach was ill and replaced at the last minute by quite a competent ringer. The student teachers then had to find a method that they knew and she didn't. Generally she knew more than them, but not it seemed Double Norwich, so they set to to teach her that.

I led one of the method teaching modules at the recent MTM for the Wigan District. For the practical session, we had an ideal set up with easy bells, plenty of helpers who could do pretty well what was asked (and they were asked to do some things they have probably never done before). I split the group into two teams with two student teachers and a guinea pig in each. I had two assistant tutors, both of whom were experienced teachers, so by assigning one to each group as mentor, I could stand back and observe, which was quite revealing.

The two groups had quite different problems, and in both cases, their first key task was to decide what the problem was, and then work out which of the battery of exercises that we had discussed would be most useful. In both cases (with a little prompting from the assistant tutors and me, they helped their guinea pigs to make significant progress, with what were probably fairly long-standing problems.

What struck me as I observed the process was the degree of focus, and the intensive nature of the activity. The two teams alternately used the bells (and helpers) with discussion and theory while the other team was ringing. The student teachers working in pairs (with occasional hints from the assistant tutors) seemed to be much better at working out what the problem was, and changing tack if needed, than they would have been working on their own.

The situation was special. The focus was on the teachers rather than the pupils, and the collective experience available to us was more than would be present in most towers. Even so, I could not help wondering whether two aspects of what we did might perhaps be transferable into everyday method teaching.

- Would it be better to teach in pairs? Even if half of the pair was less experienced, one person might see things that the other doesn't. In any case, it is a way of becoming more experienced.

- Would it be better to teach intensively, concentrating on one (or perhaps two depending on resources available) people making major progress in a particular area. Each touch would be diagnosed and the next touch designed on the basis of the diagnosis. This would dominate a practice, so the benefits would have to be shared round, but it might over a number of weeks yield better overall progress than the traditional drip feed approach.

Does anyone already do this?

  John Harrison, Autumn 2003

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