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Funds of knowledge:

community building in art classes

The purpose for this research study was to survey parents at Archdale Trinity Middle School (ATMS) in Archdale, NC and identify a group of participants willing to participate in a qualitative study as well as a survey to find their "funds of knowledge". The participants were asked to respond to participation in a quantitative study, complete a brief survey of their "funds of knowledge" as well as agree to help the classroom instructor by sharing information with the students. In the 60 surveys sent home to the parents 54% of the total surveys were returned. Of the 33% who returned the survey 72% responded negative and 33% responded positively. The results of the survey showed the participants who were willing and who would qualify to participate in the quantitative study to follow. The quantitative study planned uses interviews with family members to identify "funds of knowledge" or resources, abilities, skills and experiences that exist in the home and puts that to use in the classroom.

The "funds of knowledge" in families are a strategic part of learning when used in the classrooms of a rural school. Rural communities may lack the same organized public and private resources in the arts that larger more urban communities have can profit from a study of the resources of individual families providing potential links to resources that if used properly in the classroom foster excellent learning.When psychologists look at schools they see the classroom as a community with values and rules. From the classroom, they look beyond to the families and mentoring relationships for the ways that children construct knowledge. One of the dynamics of learning is that it is culturally oriented and viewed as situated and occurs in specific context of the community. Knowledge is seen as distributed and not existing solely in the head of the individual but emerging from the individual's perspective and the perspectives of other individuals. The significance of this topic is supported in Howard Gardner's book "The Disciplined Mind". In chapter 5 "How Cultures Educate" he states that "It is quite natural and appropriate to speak of educational institutions in terms of the culture that gave rise to them and the norms and values expressed in their everyday practices. To focus on culture is not to deny psychology or biology; each of these vantage points is necessary. Schools in general-and equally, schools worthy of emulation- are the product of their society and culture; its goals, its values, its ways of making and interpreting meanings. Perhaps less dramatically, but equally decisively, these milieus, with their unique histories and values, determine what is likely, what is possible, and what is not going to happen in the education of their children."1 If the culture in which the school is situated determines much of what will and will not happen I propose that a survey of the community could help determine qualities of art that are viewed as important and can help determine what will be motivating and useful in the arts classrooms. A broad definition of resources from the community includes issues that are important to the community and activities and events in the home and the public that relate to the subject. In a more tangible way the phrase "funds of knowledge"is used by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in their book "Situated Learning" to describe the resources that exist in the home like information, abilities, skills and experiences and are said to "represent strategic resources for the classroom." The community contains a collection of knowledge and values that are inseparable from the student, determine the success of projects in art education and are valuable to the art classroom. The motivating factors for the design of this study were Gardner's observation that the values of the community "determine what is likely, what is possible, and what is not going to happen in the education of their children." and a quote from an article by Luis C. Moll titled Funds of Knowledge for Teaching, "Our analysis of funds of knowledge represents a positive (and we argue, realistic) view of households as containing ample cultural and cognitive resources with great, potential utility for classroom instruction. This view of house-holds, we should mention, contrasts sharply with prevailing and accepted perceptions of working-class families as somehow disorganized socially and deficient intellectually; perceptions that are well accepted and rarely challenged in the field of education and elsewhere.
Resources that the community poses can be useful in the classroom but how ? First, look at the importance of the link that the community has on cognition. This importance of community resources in successful learning exists in several disciplines. The 21st Century Learning Initiative web site features articles by participants such as John Abbott and Terence Ryan. In their article "Constructing Knowledge, Reconstructing Schooling" they address the important issue of recent brain research. They find that new knowledge of how the brain works supports the constructivist learning style and say that this "collides head-on with many of our institutional arrangements for learning." The area that incorporates the home, school and community together is called "middle ground," and is important in that "it (middle ground) is the territory between the schools and the community where the difficulty for so many policy makers and the general public lie. Yet increasing numbers of people are starting to recognize that for a more dynamic form of learning like constructivism to succeed it will require strong partnerships among all those who make-up the environment in which children learn and grow." In a related article "Learning to Go with the Grain of the Brain" they point out that "Many adolescents...get completely turned off by schooling at this stage because it simply does not seem real..." and that "As children get older their learning must be integrated into the broader life of the community with real tasks for young people to do, and real responsibilities for them to shoulder."
A real-world example of the importance of community resources in learning and how to put them to use isthe research study conducted by Luis C. Moll on working class Latino students. He examined teacher instruction and combined changes in instruction with information from community research to prove that success as a teacher with non-English speaking students is deeply connected to using the resources properly in the classroom. Moll writes that "The key to understanding school performance is not in the study of mental aptitude or attitude toward schooling; it is in understanding the dynamics of material, local settings. To succeed in school one does not need a special culture; we know now, thanks to ethnographic work, that success and failure is in the social organization of schooling, in the organization of the experience itself." Moll's work relates to the situation of the art program in rural schools in that there is usually not a large base of support in the community and limited knowledge of the cultural arts in the classroom as a result. With further study I believe his techniques would apply to teaching art in the rural communities and prove to increase the success of the art programs in the schools.
There is an abundance of materials supporting the importance of community resources in education. A brief overview of the material that I used as resources ranges from Howard Gardner's observations that the limits of education lie in the scope of community values which stem from the theory of situated learning by Lave and Wegner. Studies conducted with working class Latino students whose real abilities shown brightly with slight changes to instruction and the addition of information from the resources of their families and the Ohio state guidelines for art education curriculum including an area of instruction called "Art in Society (values and beliefs)" connect the community to the degree of excellence in the classroom. In Ohio one teacher executed the art in society objectives by having the students do a survey of their family's views on architecture to help them understand more about art in their community. Louise Cadwell in her book "Brining Reggio Home" describes the world famous pre-schools in Italy's Reggio region where the community believes that learning is more than an institutionalization of students. One teacher there recognizes the importance of social context to a 6 year old student and writes "She is interested in the social context around her and in placing herself in relationship to the important features of her world." In a report called "Gaining the Arts Advantage. Lessons from School Districts that Value Arts Education" by the Presidents Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Arts Education Partnership , 1999, success of art education in the schools is directly related to the "exceptional degree of involvement by influential segments of the community which value the arts in the total affairs of the school district: in governance, funding, and program delivery."
The purpose of this study was to create an instrument that could reach parents to ask whether they would be willing to share their knowledge and beliefs with the students at ATMS. Again, funds of knowledge is defined as resources, abilities, skills and experiences that exist in the home of the students. My hypothesis states that, in this first part of a two part study, a survey of the Archdale-Trinity Middle School community, will provide resource information useful in selecting the participants for a quantitative study. The second part, a quantitative study which interviews parents about thier "funds of knowledge" and put it to use building a better than average art program at that school. Howard Gardner's theories and Luis Moll's studies are strong evidence from professional research that the resources of a community and the use of that information in the classroom to teach art is an important part of building an excellent arts program in a public school.

The participants in this research study were the parents of students at Archdale Trinity Middle School in Archdale, NC. The students of Archdale-Trinity, NC are 52.5% male and 47.5% female. Over 90% of the students are caucasian and 15% are free or reduced lunch recipients.

In order to find potential participants for the qualitative study on funds of knowledge in the ATMS community I created an instrument used to get permission from the parent and a brief one page survey listing their funds of knowledge. The permission form stated the purpose of the study and asked the participants to choose either "yes" they would like to participate in the study or "no" they would not like to participate. If the participant chose "yes" then they were also asked to review a brief survey attached of possible funds of knowledge called "What We Do For Work and Fun". The survey was a check list with item s of knowledge that they or someone in their immediate family possessed. It included items like business, printing, crafts, moral knowledge, where you go for travel either business or personal.

The procedural technique used to select my sample was non-random. Parents or guardians of the students who were asked to participate represent the ATMS community. I know the principle, art, chorus and band teachers at ATMS personally. I used my experience and knowledge of the teachers as a basis for choosing ATMS to use as a sample. (purposive method of selection). First, I sent a letter to the principle of ATMS requesting permission to do a study in her school. Then letters were sent to the art teacher and the chorus teacher at ATMS asking them if they would help me by using their students and parents in the study. The teachers were asked to use knowledge of their classes to select one class that they felt would have a good percentage of participation. After selecting the students they were asked for a copy of the class roster and to expect the surveys and permission forms in two weeks. I gave the class $1 for each returned survey since there was no cost to me for the instrument or postage . I prepared cover letters, permission forms and surveys and put them in envelopes addressed to "The parents of Students Name" using the class rosters provided by the teachers. The sample size chosen by the teachers was 60 participants total, 16 from an art class and 44 from a chorus class. The surveys were distributed to the homes by hand via the students and given one weeks time to return them. I am providing a copy of this study, the returned forms and copies of Luis Moll's study as well as the Word documents to produce the forms and questionnaires to the two teachers to use to follow up or use in the futureŻ

The participation in the "My Family Makes ATMS Great" project was a success with 54% or 33 of the surveys returned. Of the 54% of the surveys returned 33% or 11 participants said they would like to participate in the project (the qualitative study) and completed a survey which lists areas of work and fun that they have experienced. The next steps of contacting the 11 families who want to participate and scheduling interviews would begin the second part of the study, the qualitative field work. Preparing lessons and scheduling the families to visit the classroom and take part in the lessons would bring the study to fruition. Only then could the full tally of results take place. Going by the success of the initial survey to find parents the completion of the entire project would no doubt be an exciting experience for the students, parents and teachers involved. The culmination of planning and executing the study would be lessons in the content area of art that are a mix of content and real experiential knowledge and issues relative to the community and thereby the students in the class.

The final statistics are evidence supporting my hypothesis which states that, in this first part of a two part study, a survey of the Archdale-Trinity Middle School community, will provide resource information useful in selecting the participants for a quantitative study. The second part, a quantitative study which finds "funds of knowledge" in the community, will be useful in building a better than average art program at that school. The success of the second part of the study is yet to be determined at ATMS. However, Howard Gardner's theories and Luis Moll's studies combine to show that research on the resources of a community and the use of that information in the classroom to teach art is an important part of building an excellent arts program in a public school. The study done here at ATMS begins that building process and I believe, will also prove to shape an excellent art program for the future.

Some assumptions that I made in the research study were that each family does have information to contribute that could be a resource to learning art classroom. Possible sources of sampling bias is knowing the teachers personally skewing the response of the participants positive. Another bias is that the participants have children in the art programs and the 11 positive responses may be an eggagerated amount. Another possible bias is that the study is conducted by a student at ECU and not the classroom teacher and less parents may feel the need to participate in the survey.


Abbott, John, Terrance, Ryan, 21 Century Learning Initiative, Constructing Knowledge,

Reconstructing Schooling, (1999)

Abbott, John, Terrance, Ryan, 21 Century Learning Initiative, Learning to Go With the Grain of the Brain (1999)

Caldwell, L. B. (1977), Bringing Reggio Emilia Home, New York Teachers College Press

Community Discovery Project,

Drum, Yvonne L, "Exemplary Units: A Way To Do It All!", School Arts, (V88 April 1989): 8-31

Gardner, Howard, (1999), The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand, Simon & Shuster, New York

Johns, Mary Sue, "The New Crusade: Parent Involvement. School Arts, (V94 1994): 16

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne, (1991) "Situated Learning", New York; Cambridge University Press

Longly, Laura, (1999), Gaining the Arts Advantage, Lessons from Schools that Value Arts Education, Arts Education Partnership and Pres idents Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Moll, Luis C., Amanti, Cathy, Neff, Deborah, Gomez, Norma, Funds of Knowledge for Teaching, Theory Into Practice (1992, 31,2): 132-41.

Moll, Louis C., Diaz, Stephen, Change as the Goal of Educational Research, Anthropology and Educational Quarterly, (1990,94): 300-11

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