A teacher shows students how to play the guitar
Photo: Johan Wingborg

Praise instead of growth in music education for teachers in training


The students are given encouragement and support, but critical or developing comments are often hushed. These are the findings of a dissertation at the University of Gothenburg that studied teaching in the subject of music for education students.

“The intention seems to be to try to reduce the fears that education students either express or are assumed to have about participating in musical activities,” says the study’s author, Monica Frick Alexandersson. “It surprises me that this culture of silence and the uniformly positive culture of praise is given so much leeway in the education programmes at the institutions I studied.”

Alexandersson has studied how the curriculum in the subject of music is designed for education students preparing to teach preschool through third grade. The study is based on video documentation and field notes gathered during a three-year period at several different Swedish universities.

The findings show that the curriculum tends to be marked by two general ideas. The first appears primarily in classroom situations, when teachers avoids exposing their students to certain things it is assumed they might be sensitive about demonstrating in front of the class. For example, they may be insecure about singing or playing an instrument.

“Often both teachers and students avoid discussing what a student could further develop or improve. Instead, they talk about what worked well during the activity or about how brave the student was for at least daring to try despite a lack of prior knowledge of music.”

Monica Frick Alexandersson
Photo: Privat

The other general idea is primarily about supporting students who are anxious about upcoming exams and presentations. For example, an examination in guitar playing may be given in a large group so the students don’t all need to play the guitar chords they find most difficult. The students are notified in advance that their guitar playing will not be judged individually. Instead, the emphasis is on the students feeling a sense of community and having fun.

In her dissertation, Monica Frick Alexandersson calls these patterns “the Caretaking Discourse” and the “Good Intentions Discourse.” Both can be interpreted as part of an implicit prevailing culture of evaluation in which the teachers overlook their students’ weaknesses and compensate for them.

“In this way, the discussion is redirected to areas other than those the students ought to develop,” says Frick Alexandersson.

Her study demonstrates the great extent to which these patterns shape the curriculum. They are manifested in different ways in the teaching and examinations, but they occur in every one of the institutions studied.

“It surprised me that so many students express a lack of self-confidence about their performance in musical activities,” says Frick Alexandersson. Many also think the theoretical and practical musical knowledge they acquired in their education is hard to translate to their student teaching stints in preschool and elementary school.”

More information

Since 2011, music is no longer a required subject in all Swedish teacher training programmes. That means that the extent of music in the curriculum can differ from one institution to another. The observations in this study were made in courses that include music as part of a series of courses in aesthetics. The observations cover musical craftsmanship, play, group work, presentation, evaluation and examination.

The title of the dissertation: Care, benevolence and culture of silence – discursive dilemmas and strategies in teaching practice in music within teacher education towards younger ages.

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Monica Frick Alexandersson, telephone: 070−323 95 49, email: