Research on the didactics of the arts - paradigm and projects

Paradigm: Generative processes and emergence of something new

Expressing feelings and ideas with our body (movements, incl. voice) – singing, dancing, body percussion, drama playing, story telling –, and by using material and tools – drawing, painting, constructing, making music with objects etc. – are subjects of children’s playing, acculturation, and art education. The children implicitly learn the cultural conventions of communication and the use of symbols to participate in the various rituals. Key moments of intergenerational transmission of cultural achievements happen while joining attention, sharing intentions, and cooperating, e.g., while solving a problem or creating something new.
In our research we focus such generative processes. We analyze the mutually agreed and shared task and intentions, and we study the child’s organization of his or her actions while generating. In addition, we study  the interaction with the teacher who presumably intends to support, act and cooperate as a model. The aim is to reconstruct the process of how something new emerges. Thereby we identify obstacles and breakthrough experiences, and we use the insights for theorizing and refining the conceptual framework.

Project: From spatial vision to planar representation

How do children draw boxes as cuboids, and how can they be supported?

The drawing of a spatial object is challenging because the three-dimensional perception has to be transformed into a two dimensional representation on a planar surface. The creation of a well-formed solution requires the mental abstraction of spatial relations, aesthetic judgements, and visual-manual skills. We investigate how children (n =19, age between 7;5 and 8;9 yrs.) repeatedly draw spatial bodies - e.g., a house, a box - and how they learn to integrate spatial features into their graphic representations. Simultaneously, we study the teacher's guiding and scaffolding the children in class, in small groups, and individually. We analyse these processes by means of video recordings, drawings, and conversations. On the childrens' part, we reconstruct the strategies, obstacles, and emotional states (e.g., sudden insights). On the teacher's part, we reconstruct the means of ensuring mutual understanding, e.g., gestures, pointing, modelling, and explaining, - and related interactive patterns between teacher and children. Separately, we study adults' drawing of a box on a planar surface. The differences between adults' and children's  spatial-representational knowledge and skills gives rise to didactic questions: How can pre-service and in-service teachers be qualified for understanding and supporting children's spatial thinking and graphic skills?

Project leader: Lea Weniger

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefanie Stadler Elmer

Financing: Qualification in teaching specific contents, TP2 swissuniversities

Music didactic research: The song leading capacity

We study the capacity to teach songs to a group of 4- to 8-year-old children, both as a professional activity and as developing during teacher education. We define this capacity as a complex of skills, strategies and knowledge, which manifests itself largely intuitively, automatically and in situ through actions of sign use towards children, and which follows conventions and norms (children's song grammar, aesthetics). The grammar of the children's song - the normative reference system - together with video recordings, associated interviews and microanalyses serve to reconstruct and make explicit the capacity of song leading of experienced teachers as well as of pre-serivce teachers.

Project management: Stefanie Stadler Elmer & François Joliat (HEP-BEJUNE)

Project team: Anna Hürlimann, Armin Wyrsch, Annamaria Savona & Gabriella Cavasino

Financing: SNF Nr. 100019_179182 (2018 - 2021) and swissuniversities: Qualification in teaching specific contents, TP2.

Completed projects - didactics in the arts

The “musical” day-care centre: A model for training the educators

In an ideal world, the professional education of educators of young children would include musical training targeted to the benefit of the young children. Yet, research knowledge on the role of musical activities – e.g., song singing – is only slowly applied in the practical fields of early education. Our research project aims at designing a model for the musical training of early childhood educators as a team within their professional context. Ideally, this model should allow to be transferred to new contexts. Hence, we strive for identifying and generalizing didactic elements for providing young children daily experiences of enjoyable and playful song singing and other musical activities in day-care centers.
We guide the staff members in a day-care center to appreciate their already existing musical culture by increasing their awareness and knowledge, and we assist them to improve their abilities and skills. Key elements are a collectively share repertoire of songs and musical games, and the daily practicing of song singing and enriching it with narratives, movements, gestures, etc. to make an enjoyable and playful social scenario that includes all children.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefanie Stadler Elmer

Project team: Armin Wyrsch, Isabella Steffen Meister, Lea Weniger, Anna Hürlimann

Sponsor: Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, 05/2016 - 10/2017

Completed international project: Developing national music education systems: What are knowledge based strategies?

Time and again, in many countries governments and politicians cut the budget for education. Music education is often misunderstood as a luxury that can be left out. As researchers, we have strong arguments for the need of music education in a society. They are beyond superficial economic calculations, but concern long term effects at affective and intellectual levels. We are convinced that the national education systems in our countries could benefit from applying research knowledge. Central questions are how teacher training and programs could be made more efficient, and how quality in music education can be assured even in times of low public budgets.

Salvador, Brazil, January 15-31, conference at the Federal University fo Bahia, January 26-27, 2016.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Stefanie Stadler Elmer

In co-operation with Prof. Dr. Mara Pinheiro Menezes, Prof. Dr. Alda, De Jesus Oliveira, & Prof. Dr. Zuraida Abud Bastiao, Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, & Prof. Dr. Jelena Davidova, Daugavpils University, Latvia

Financed by the Brazilian Swiss Joint Research Programme (BSJRP), Leading House: EPFL

Joint publication: Davidova J. (ed.) (2016). Problems in Music Pedagogy, 15(2), 1-75.


Stefanie Stadler Elmer
Pädagogische Hochschule Schwyz
Zaystrasse 42
CH-6410 Goldau
T +41 41 859 05 75
stefanie.stadler @
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