Democratic Demos

The following descriptions are summaries of the Instructional Fair posters that were presented during the 2003 Winter Meeting. Choose a school in the drop-down menu below to go directly to the summary.

* Addison Elementary  *

Addison Elementary School
League of Professional Schools
Democratic Learning Project

Melissa Blankenship—Media Specialist
Jan Clos—Gifted
Debbie Harris—Gifted
Jayne Hebert—Art
Carolyn Jurick—Principal
Linda Lambert—Fourth
Martha Stamps—Fourth
Julia Timmons—Assistant Principal

Participants in project:

Above members
40 fourth-grade students
Parents of participating students
Residents of Heritage Assisted Living facility.

Project Goals:
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.

Summary of activities:

• 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.

Future activities planned:

• 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 biographies.


• Students have kept reflective journals of their experiences with the Heritage residents.
• Participating staff members have met weekly to discuss experiences, plan future events, and write reflections on democratic learning practices.

School Contact information:

Addison Elementary School
3055 Ebenezer Rd.
Marietta, GA 30068

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* Barksdale Elementary School *

Barksdale 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 Scott
d. Bi-monthly grade level meetings
e. League of Professional School conferences

Through 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.

Our display 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  *

Since 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 Mexican history.
* 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.

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* Eastvalley Elementary  *

This 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.

Democratic Learning is:
* 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 public feedback.
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 community.
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.

Our 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.

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* Mary Lin Elementary  *


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 project.

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  *

R.L. Norton Elementary
Snellville, Georgia
Contact: Jennifer Dionne

ALL 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 their community).

• 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 public feedback).

• 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 the teacher).

Reflection- 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  *

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.

Volunteers were 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 environment.

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.

The following 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 Cancer Society.
-- 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  *

Hosting 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.

Recently, 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 *

We have 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 holidays.

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 benefits.

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