Primary seven pupils at Loanhead Primary School are reaping the benefits of an innovative new way of learning which involves no longer having to wear shoes in the classroom.
Since they began their school year in August the children in Karen Hinton’s class have been part of a Midlothian-wide educational initiative called Inspiring Learning Spaces, joining 19 other primary schools exploring how traditional classrooms can be adapted or redesigned to create new and innovative spaces for learning.
As part of the project, since December the pupils have been getting comfortable while being taught by the method of ‘shoeless learning’, which sees the end of the traditional desks and chairs and seating plan, to be replaced by beanbags, sofas and sitting on the floor, with the classroom split into zones and pupils’ work kept in trays situated in a separate storage department.
Professor Steven Heppl, who looked at improving learning spaces all over the world, came up with the initiative.
Mrs Hinton believes shoeless learning is showing positive results, with pupils more eager to come to class and improving grades to boot.
She said: “The whole project was hard to get my head around, I had to give pupils total ownership of how they learn, and if you told me this time last year that I would be teaching in zones with no teacher’s desk or seating plan and no high heels on either, I would have never believed you. But I love shoeless learning, it is exciting and fresh. It has made such an improvement on the children’s behaviour and concentration.
“There is no seating plan, they choose where to work and how to do it. Children find it difficult to sit still so even the little wobble chairs they use now mean they are not sitting still.
“They are more focused and more energised, they enjoy it, and I find they are doing more work than before. It’s hard to explain, they are more relaxed but want to do more work. They know I don’t care where they sit, as long as they do their work. It’s them taking ownership of their learning.”
The pupils and their teacher have had to get used to a lot of changes in the classroom.
Mrs Hinton added: “When they were first told about this project the children were looking all blank faced. But now my children don’t write on jotters they write on windows, and take pictures on the Ipad and print them out. This new way of working gives them choice and ownership, it empowers them.
“I used to stand at the front of the class and all those eyes were on me, now I have an attention spot where I have two minutes to speak to the children.
“We have still got the same learning objectives, it’s just achieved in different ways. It’s very flexible, if I move on to a maths lesson and they don’t feel like doing that they can move on to something else.”
Following this initial success with the P7 class other pupils in the school and further afield could soon be taking on shoeless learning.
“The council hopes that we can keep this going, hopefully it will be used by other classes in the school,” said Mrs Hinton. “It works and it is the way forward for learning I think for all age groups. It takes a lot of training, but when there is that mutual respect and the pupils realise it’s their choice then it’s the best way to do things, it’s ultimately to take away classrooms as just four walls, it’s now zones. It’s having a different mind-set, you are here to learn but you don’t have to be facing the front to do that. The pupils are so excited and always want to show everyone their classroom.”
Mrs Hinton’s pupils revealed just how much they have enjoyed this new way of learning.
“I really like the shoeless thing, everything is more calmer and comfier, yeah, it works,” said Ethan.
Kyle added: “It has been good fun designing our classroom because we got to do a lot of budgeting and design lessons like making mood boards and scale models. It is all new and modern and we are really lucky.”
And Robyn said: “I need to move to concentrate, I like sitting at the art desks because they are very different and really comfy, I previously had an old wobble cushion but it is nowhere near as effective for my learning as a yogaball seat or the wobble stools.”
As part of their new learning process the pupils in Mrs Hinton’s class have been building robots and some of them are set to go to England to compete.