Don't sit up boy - slouch!

5th December 2003 at 00:00
The exclusive Millfield prep school in Somerset is the unlikely home of an experiment in alternative learning methods. Neal Smith reports

Pupils at a private Somerset school hope the days of being scolded for fidgeting in class or slouching at their desks will become a thing of the past.

The 12 Year 7 and 8 pupils who sit, lie or stand in Jim Boyd's class at Millfield preparatory school are part of an experiment in alternative learning. Their teacher says the techniques are raising standards and improving behaviour.

Mr Boyd, Millfield's head of English, was inspired by Barbara Prashnig, an educationist in New Zealand who has pioneered fresh approaches to learning.

He attended a two-day course on her alternative methods recently where she explained how she helped turn around a failing school in Dunedin, on the south island, with the introduction of sofas, CD players and beanbags in classrooms.

"The idea is that children perform best in the conditions which most suit them. And this almost completely changed the culture of truancy at the school as it became so popular among its pupils," said Mr Boyd.

Mr Boyd has surveyed the learning habits of 200 Year 7 and 8 children at Millfield, which charges pound;15,000 per year for pupils who board. He has sought to identify the learning conditions that best suit them.

His findings suggest that four in five of these children learn best when fidgeting, while one in five works best with music in the background.

"It is often said that the early morning is the best time for children to learn," said Mr Boyd, though he found the most popular time was between 11 and 1 o'clock.

As a result of his research, Mr Boyd permits two pupils to stand and pace around the classroom, three can lie on mats and work at a coffee table while two sit in "comfy chairs". The remaining five sit at traditional desks and chairs.

"I have found that standards have risen and the pupils are more interested and motivated as a result of the changes," said Mr Boyd. "I do not have to take time to discipline them for fidgeting and this improves concentration.

"Some children work well if they can manipulate an object, some need to walk about every 10 minutes, while one works best alone, late at night or with music.

"As long as they are learning they should be encouraged to do what suits them best and I hope our school, and others, will adopt these techniques."

Classmates Alice McEwan, 12, and Samantha Glanfield, 13, fiddle with a balloon filled with flour to help them concentrate in Mr Boyd's classes.

Samantha, who also lies on a mat, added: "I concentrate much better now but I get told off for fidgeting in other classes. It's a real treat going to English.

"And my parents now let me watch TV while doing my homework, which really helps."

Details of Barbara Prashnig's alternative approaches are at www.creativelearningcentre.com

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