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Norges musikkhøgskole Norwegian Academy of Music Search

Laura Dobrowen: Music in Primary School

The study investigates music teachers’ ways of understanding professionalism and their construction of meaning.

Field of study: Music Education


The aim of this study has been to shed light on the professional practice of Norwegian primary school music teachers (grade 1–7), investigating their ways of understanding professionalism. A central purpose for the investigation of music teachers’ ways of understanding professionalism has been to subject these to critical scrutiny. The professional practice of the music teachers in this study is situated within the organizational setting of the primary school. Here the music teachers find their space for professional discretion, a space providing both limitations and possibilities for music education. In primary school, music can be seen as a marginal subject oftentimes overshadowed by other and more prominent school subjects. This study explores perspectives on music as a deviant practice and as an invisible subject. Music is also seen as a dynamic subject, implying the need for teachers’ professional discretion in choosing amongst many possible educational perspectives and practices. The music teachers also need to defend their discretionary decisions and advocate a position for their professional music educational practice in primary school, in a multifarious context of school subjects, expectations and practices.

Material and methods

Methodologically the study has a qualitative design. The empirical data consists of individual and group interviews with 16 primary school music teachers from ten different schools. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) is used to systematise and analyse the interviews. The study employs a social constructionist approach, seeing all social practices as practices where meaning is constructed. The teachers’ perceptions of meaningful professional practice and their ways of understanding professionalism are seen as social constructions. These perceptions and ways of understanding are continually constructed and reconstructed in the social practices in which teachers take part. They are seen as constructions of meaning deeply rooted in teachers’ values and ideals about what music education is and what it should be. In this way the study contributes to an occupational perspective on professionalism from within, shedding light on how meaning is constructed amongst music teachers.

Theoretical perspectives

The study employs a range of theoretical perspectives: theories of professions, theories of didactics, curriculum theory and social constructionist theory. These provide a multi-perspectival frame, constructing knowledge in a new way in the field of music education research. Two areas of the teachers’ professional practice are investigated, the area of planning practice and the area of teaching practice. In the area of teaching practice, the teachers’ perceptions are categorised into four dimensions: a subject-didactic dimension, a communicative-didactic dimension, a learning-didactic dimension and an organizational dimension. In the area of planning practice, several perceptions of the national curriculum are identified. The analysis has revealed a pragmatic approach to the curriculum, implying that music teachers actively adapt it to their everyday professional practice. Investigating the teachers’ perceptions of meaningful professional practice the study furthermore has identified three main ways of understanding professionalism: professionalism as facilitating teachers’ and students’ well-being, professionalism as handling the teaching of music, and professionalism as advocating the professional practice. The three positions are discussed in light of alternative perspectives on professionalism. Here the study identifies a lack of certain perspectives on professionalism amongst music teachers: perspectives on subject didactics, reflective practice and innovative practice. In this way the study contributes to the development of primary school music education, discussing how teachers, principals and teacher educators can facilitate professional music educational practice.

The dissertation

Title (translated from Norwegian): Primary school teachers' ways of understanding professionalism in music education.

The dissertation is a monograph, and it is written in Norwegian.

The dissertation is available in NMH's digital archive.

Published: Feb 7, 2018 — Last updated: Apr 8, 2024