Addison Elementary *
League of Professional Schools
Democratic Learning Project
Melissa Blankenship—Media Specialist
Julia Timmons—Assistant Principal
40 fourth-grade students
Parents of participating students
Residents of Heritage Assisted Living facility.
1. Establish a classroom environment that facilitates democratic learning.
2. Students will understand the relevance of their learning to their
lives and community.
3. Develop connections to communities.
4. Demonstrate learning in public settings.
Classroom teachers established a classroom environment that facilitates
democratic learning using the following techniques: chalk-talk, jot
boards, brainstorming, final word, cooperative grouping, student decision-making,
surveys, community inquiry, and research.
• In order to understand the relevance of their learning to
their lives and community, students participated in a walk-about and
used various materials to research connections between their lives
and those of senior citizens.
• Connections to the community have been established by:
o Question/Answer session from Heritage activity director to prepare
students for visit.
o Singing performance of Grandma’s Featherbed
o Conducting interviews of assisted-living residents in preparation
for biography publication.
o Exploring literature with multi-generational characters.
o Art projects have been created both for and with the residents.
Further connections to the community will be developed when students
and residents have a game day incorporating games from residents’
youth. (Ex: dominoes, checkers, bingo, etc.)
• Learning will be demonstrated in a public setting during the
Student Author’s Tea celebrating the publication of the resident’s
Students have kept reflective journals of their experiences with the
• Participating staff members have met weekly to discuss experiences,
plan future events, and write reflections on democratic learning practices.
3055 Ebenezer Rd.
Marietta, GA 30068
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Barksdale Elementary School *
is located in Conyers, Georgia, about thirty minutes east of Atlanta.
The school is part of the Rockdale County Public School System. The
principal is Dr. Cheryl Stone. This year our school houses a little
under 700 students in grades kindergarten through fifth.
Barksdale Elementary School began in August 1978 with an enrollment
of 385 students. Students and the faculty moved into the new building
in 1980. The current student enrollment is 706 with 32 classroom teachers
serving the students. Additional services are provided for students
through a full-time principal, instructional lead teacher, guidance
counselor, a media specialist and media paraprofessional, a music
teacher, a physical education teacher, an interrelated resource teacher,
a speech therapist, an art specialist, and one EIP teacher. Twenty-five
instructional assistants enhance Barksdale's educational program.
In addition, a full-time technology specialist and an Apple Early
Learning Connections Lab/INTEL staff the computer labs. Students are
heterogeneously grouped in self-contained classrooms. Barksdale Elementary
School has been chosen as a Georgia School of Excellence five times.
As part of our plan for school improvement, Barksdale has stressed
collaborative instructional planning through the use of:
a. Monthly cross-grade level meetings
b. Communication Groups (with a parent/community member in each group)
c. Monthly grade level meetings with instructional lead teacher, Jane
d. Bi-monthly grade level meetings
e. League of Professional School conferences
the use of the above shared planning, we recognized the need to enhance
our teaching skills in order to better serve the needs of our changing
community. Teacher leaders designed a two-year staff development program
to train our school’s staff in Differentiated Instruction techniques.
Results of this training have been encouraging. We have maintained
our high academic standards with the general student population and
have shown improvement in targeted, high-risk subgroups.
is focusing on samples of Differentiated Instruction techniques that
have been commonly (and successfully) used in our school.
1. Stations - Different spots in the classroom where students work
on various tasks simultaneously. Stations work in concert with one
another for student learning to take place.
2. Centers - Differ from stations in that centers are distinct. Students
would not need to complete all centers for the learning objectives
to be met.
3. Agendas - A personalized list of tasks that a particular student
must complete in a specified time. Student agendas throughout a class
will have similar and dissimilar elements on them. A teacher usually
creates an agenda that will last a student two to three weeks. The
teacher develops a new agenda when the previous one is complete.
4. Contracts/Choice Folders - Includes an opportunity for students
to work somewhat independently on material that is largely teacher-directed.
It is a negotiated agreement between teacher and student.
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Dalton Elementary *
joining the League of Professional Schools in the spring of 2002,
Dalton High School has renewed a commitment to enhance student learning
through greater student participation, service to the community, and
an emphasis on democratic principles. Affiliation with the League
has also been a nice fit with our other partners, such as SREB High
Schools That Work, and the National Service-Learning and Tech Prep/School-to-Work
initiatives. City Park Elementary School, a League member for many
years, is also in our school district.
Thanks to the support and commitment of our school administration,
we have been allowed to form a Professional Growth Team focusing on
League ideals and principles. By design, our team comprises a teacher
representative from each academic area (language arts, mathematics,
social studies, and science), ESOL and fine arts teachers, a counselor,
and an administrator. Our team attends League training together and
meets twice monthly. Each team member has begun and/or continued a
student-centered project based on democratic learning ideals. Team
meetings provide the opportunity to share our progress as well as
give and receive feedback form other members. Lesson plans are critiqued,
school-wide projects are planned, and teachers develop interdisciplinary
activities. New ideas and methodologies generate like wildfires!
As National Service-Learning Leader School, we have been practicing
many of the democratic learning tenets for several years. Two of our
team members are leading service-learning grant projects. Some of
the other democratic learning initiatives currently underway include:
* ESOL/history/fine arts areas collaborating with two national Hispanic
artists to research design and create murals in the community depicting
* Math/science students developing democratic classrooms in which
students have a greater voice and choice in their learning.
* Social studies students using small groups to create questions for
interviews with local war veterans.
* Several youth volunteers joining with peers from other area high
schools to form an advisory committee to coordinate community service
activities, such as Make A Difference Day.
* Administrators incorporating democratic learning ideas in the school
discipline procedures, allowing students some choice in consequences.
* Language arts students welcoming community leaders as guest speakers
and writing about what they have learned.
* Fine Arts students designing and creating mosaic benches for the
entrance of a community arts center.
Eastvalley Elementary *
year I am attending Kennesaw State University’s Early Childhood
Masters of Education program. One of our program’s goals is
to implement an action research project in our classroom base on best
practices and needs of our school. I have always been very interested
in community service; therefore, I decided to select service learning
as my area of research and implementation. The league of Professional
School has provided support and valuable resources to make my project
successful in my classroom this year.
My second grade classroom studied an in-depth unit on the community
and who makes up our community. I decided to incorporate the principals
of democratic learning and make the unit meaningful and applicable
to the real world. My guiding questions for the action research project
in my classroom include why are students reluctant to be around senior
citizens, and what factors can be utilized to increase understanding
of senior citizens and their value to our community? Students had
the opportunity to invite “Memory Visitors” into our classroom
to share information about their past. Our “Memory Visitors”
were senior citizens in the community (grandparents, neighbors, retired
teachers) who came to share favorite memories of their childhood growing
up, favorite travels they’ve been on, hobbies, etc. Prior to
the visits our classroom had “Chalk Talks” and class discussions
about Community members and their contributions to society. Books,
audiovisuals, and class discussions also led the students to a deeper
understanding of whom senior citizens are in our community.
After each visitor, students had the opportunity to reflect in their
“Memory Visitor Journal” and write down feelings and new
knowledge acquired from our visitors. Students wrote thank-you notes
and made banners to thank the visitors for coming. Also, an attitude
survey was given out loud to each student prior to the service-learning
project and at the conclusion in December to help measure the success
of the project. Results are still being tallied and interpreted.
In conclusion, the final step of our project was to visit a local
retirement home and share with them something we have been learning.
Students dressed up in holiday colors and sang holiday songs to the
residents. The program director led the students on a tour of the
facility and taught the students about the many programs offered to
the senior citizens who lived there. The expressions and joy on the
students’ faces as well as the residents proved that the trip
was successful and meaningful. Students came back to school asking
when they could visit their new friends again.
I believe the service-learning project that went on in my classroom
demonstrated democratic learning in many ways. The students and teacher
worked together to make the students’ learning a contribution
to their community. Students were able to learn form the visitors
as well as the visitors learning from us. Most of all, students realized
that there are many different types of people who live around us and
we’re all special and can contribute in our own ways.
* Students and teachers working together to make students’ learning
a contribution to the community.
The students in this classroom are working to collect supplies need
by the local Cobb Humane Society in the form of donations. The children
and teacher researched the web site for his organization and found
a 26-item wish list. Students are writing letters to parents and local
businesses asking for the list items.
* Students demonstrating their learning in public settings and receiving
Planning in progress.
* Students having escalating degrees of choice, both as individuals
and as groups, within the parameters provided by the teacher.
Students were given individual choices and group choices in this project.
As a group, students spent a great deal of time discussing community
problems and needs. The students evaluated each of the options available
and decided on a problem. Individually, students were given a choice
as to the type of assistance they wanted to demonstrate. For example,
some children are writing letters to businesses, some children are
speaking to other classrooms, and others are designing posters and
boxes for the donations.
* Students actively working with problems, ideas, materials, and people
as they learn skills and content.
Students are using a variety of academic skills in this classroom.
Students are seated at tables, as opposed to desks, throughout the
day to facilitate teamwork and problem solving skills. They chose
a partner to brainstorm ideas for gathering wish list supplies. The
arrangement of the classroom allows students to share learning and
ideas with each other on a regular basis. Content is integrated to
ensure activities and projects are linked to QCC objectives and requirements.
* Students being assessed according to high degrees of excellence
in academic objectives learned and contributions made to a larger
Students are evaluated in a variety of ways in the classroom. Students
participate in small group research projects and report back to the
larger classroom. Students evaluate class strategies and ideas in
a constructive and respectful manner. Also, students engage in individual
reflections and brainstorm ways for self-improvement.
class has discussed the importance of helping people. We are becoming
aware of our school being the center of our development. Each member
of our class has a “job.” When we do our best performing
the tasks we are “serving” each other. Our classroom becomes
a special place. As a part of the school our classroom reflects how
Eastvalley performs. Our completed handbook will be a step-by-step
introduction to the many areas of our building. The photos and writings
will leave the reader anxious to begin their schooling here.
Mary Lin Elementary *
ZONE…LEARNING TAKING PLACE HERE
The team at Mary Lin is enthusiastic about implementing democratic
learning, and we are still in the planning phase of our project. The
team consists of two Kindergarten teachers, two First Grade teachers,
and a Challenge (Gifted) teacher. The Kindergarten and First Grade
classes share a hallway, and the team has decided to concentrate on
concerns about this shared community. The students have, in the past,
commented on the problems of noise and cleanliness in their hallway
and bathrooms, and the team wants to build on their interests for
Our students have extensive experience with “Morning Meetings,”
so these meetings will be the perfect forum for the implementation
of our goals. We will introduce the concept of “community”
by beginning in the classroom and extending to the school and the
larger community. The beginning activity will include a Yarn Toss
to make a web, where the students will experience the need of everyone
working together in a community to effectively complete the task.
The students will participate in a walk-around in the school, looking
for other areas of concern. Eventually, we will include a walk-around
in the community to observe the ways that safety rules are enforced.
Throughout the project, students will be involved in activities that
are interdisciplinary, including writing, math, art, social studies,
and science. Our long-term goal is to expand the project to include
our local community and the Watershed Project.
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Norton Elementary *
Contact: Jennifer Dionne
of our staff members and students participate in democratic and/or
service learning in various ways:
• During the 2002-2003 school year, our school participated
in a canned food drive. Students and faculty members brought in canned
goods to be donated to a local food closet. Students were involved
in counting and distributing the canned goods. (Students and teachers
working together to make students’ learning a contribution to
• Several grade levels participate in Book Buddies. Older students
read to or read with younger students. Classes also work together
on editing writing assignments and solving complex math problems.
(Students demonstrating their learning in public settings and receiving
• Third grade students are responsible for collecting paper
throughout the school for recycling. The money collected is given
back to our school. Students learn about the benefits of recycling
as part of their science curriculum. (Students actively working with
problems, ideas, materials, and people as they learn skills and content).
• Many of the grade levels put on performances throughout the
year. Parents and family members are invited and learn what their
children have been learning in the classroom. (Students demonstrating
their learning in public settings and receiving public feedback).
• In classrooms throughout the school, students make choices:
what books to read (to accomplish individualized reading goals mutually
agreed upon by the teacher and student), ways to celebrate their successes,
selection of STAR students, what centers to go to, and how they will
behave during a school day. (Students have escalating degrees of choice,
both as individuals and as groups, with the parameters provided by
Teachers, students, parents, and community members respond favorably
to our efforts to involve children in democratic and service learning.
We receive hundreds of dollars each month during our Relay for Life
(cancer research) campaigns. After our canned food drive, we received
a letter of appreciation from the Snellville Co-op. We also get monthly
updates from Southeast Recycling about our progress with recycling
paper. Parents and students and faculty give feedback in survey form
each fall and those results are shared with the school. We’ve
learned that what we’re doing works and nets positive results;
however, we know we can always do more. This year, our League Team
will develop a survey to address a larger community need, based on
feedback given by students, teachers, parents and community members.
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Simpson Elementary *
began the journey toward Student Democratic Learning by sharing the
concepts with the entire staff in August. This discussion reviewed
the original work of the League in our school and clarified the direction
for our next decade of involvement. Lew Allen joined us as we shared
the value of such an initiative.
asked to join a year long study led by the Principal for the purpose
of reading, discussing, planning and building. This is felt to be
the critical foundation necessary to implement the best practices
so that they become a part of our natural instruction and classroom
The study group
is composed of professionals across all grade levels. This group meets
monthly to share recent initiatives, articles of interest and plan
ways to collaborate efforts in order to continually develop strategies
and opportunities that provide successful student involvement in all
aspects of their learning.
Many staff members
have initiated the strategies that have provided opportunities that
offer quality in academics as well as extending the learning to audiences
beyond the context of their own classroom.
are examples of students and teachers working together to make learning
a contribution to the community.
--Second grade students are creating school-wide awareness of the
quality of life for zoo animals.
--Fourth grade students led a school-wide paper drive as part of a
study on the environment and donated funds to school's nature trail.
--Fourth grade students raised money to eradicate polio in third world
countries through UNICEF.
-- Kindergarten and fifth grade students made Christmas cards for
nursing homes as part of History of Norcross study.
-- Math enrichment students are conducting a penny drive for American
-- Fourth grade students completed a study of eco systems and then
transferred their learning by teaching eco systems to their first
grade book buddies.
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South Jackson Elementary *
a Musical Talent Show
A Democratic Learning Activity
Designed by Ellen Flynn’s second grade class
South Jackson Elementary
Democratic learning is
significant because it motivates students, inspires pride in their
work, develops responsibility, and makes new learning relevant. Students
develop intellectual curiosity as they pose questions and find solutions.
They develop confidence as they recognize their growing abilities
to make a difference.
my students became excited to discover that a fellow classmate took
piano lessons. This student was delighted by his peers’ interest
and asked to bring in his keyboard and play for the class. The next
day, after his performance, another student asked if she could have
a turn. Her abilities astounded the class. We had no idea this student
could play the piano at all. (This particular student has had difficulties
throughout the year completing assignments, following directions,
and getting along with others. Discovering her musical talents gave
me a known strength to help her focus on.) My class lead a discussion
about the number of students at our school that have musical talents
without others knowing. They wanted to find out more about students’
musical talents. Together we decided to host a school wide musical
talent show. After receiving permission to continue from administration,
I structured learning activities that built on student interest. We
brainstormed a list of topics to consider for making our ideas a reality.
During writing workshop, students worked in collaborative groups to
create interest surveys for the student body. A second survey was
designed for the students who noted musical talents. After collecting
these surveys, students tallied the results, determined the number
of participants, and decided the length of the program. Then, they
wrote letters to parents and music instructors to obtain permission
and elicit support. Next, the students will design an invitation and
create a program for the event. My students are thoroughly involved
in this process. We look forward to our continued planning, as well
as hosting the talent show later this year.
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White County Intermediate *
been participating in democratic learning for the last few years through
service learning projects. This year we have made an effort to introduce
democratic learning into everyday classroom situations. The team of
teachers that were at the Fall Institute has been conducting lessons
at staff meetings to show how to integrate democratic learning into
everyday lessons. In turn, the teachers have been experimenting in
their own classrooms throughout the school. Our school includes both
fourth and fifth grades with a total enrollment of approx. 580.
Our teachers are working on three different service-learning projects
at this time. One is the Dr. Murdock project of restoring a grave
site from the revolutionary war time period that is on the school
grounds. Fourth grade students have cleared and cleaned the site.
They have done writings, research and drawings about Doc Murdock.
Another project we are working on is the butterfly garden. Fifth graders
have learned math and budgeting as well as types of plants and butterflies
as they have worked on the garden. They have also had workdays to
involve parents and the community. Our latest project is developing
a self-guided nature trail on school grounds. The trail is currently
being constructed and students will be involved in writing about each
stop this spring.
Beyond our projects we also use democratic learning daily in the classroom.
We have had a door-decorating contest for Red Ribbon Week in which
students designed and made their door decorations. The doors exhibited
a great deal of creativity and teamwork. The fourth grade students
participated in a Gingerbread House contest at a local state park
at Christmas. Each classroom had to design and decorate their own
house totally on their own and again there were many creative entries.
The gingerbread houses were on display at the lodge during the Christmas
Many teachers in our school have used the strategies we have introduced
since the Fall Institute with success. We have heard comments on using
the Final Word for Social Studies and Science readings. There have
also been some that have used the Chalk Talk successfully as a review
for a subject or as a pretest to assess student’s previous knowledge
of a subject. Cooperative learning has been used to make brochures
and even roller coasters. Group presentations have been done on a
number of topics in different classrooms throughout the school. There
are also teachers having students create their own rubrics. This increases
interest in doing their best work since they know what is expected.
Some teachers ask students to assess themselves after group projects
to determine if they did their best work.
We have found that many teachers have been receptive to democratic
learning once they understood the concept. Overall, the teachers who
use it daily have seen the results of having more interested students.
The students seem to be more motivated as they learn without having
to be spoon-fed. Teachers that have grasped the concept feel that
is it less demanding on their time to have students take more responsibility
for their learning.
We have learned that not every teacher will make the shift. We have
learned that students struggle at first to make the shift and will
have to be trained to think in a more democratic way rather than just
reviewing facts. We have learned that students do better if given
the chance to do so. We have learned that there is a misconception
that democratic learning has to be service learning. We have learned
that it can be done effectively for those who can catch the vision.
We’ve learned that democratic learning can teach higher level
thinking skills, critical thinking skills and decision-making skills.
We’ve learned that when democratic learning is used everyone
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