Summer Practice Incentive

It’s always fun to change it up a little in summer. During the school year, my usual practice incentives have students working individually to earn rewards and reach practice goals. This summer I decided to have students work together to reach a studio-wide practice goal. This helps create community and is a fun way for students to contribute to each other. So I guessed at how much practice I thought students would accomplish this summer together, then gave the math problem to my daughter to figure out how big to make a gumball machine to hold 3/4″ gumballs (stickers). It’s so handy to have a daughter who just completed high school geometry. She’s also an artist and free-handed the rest of the gumball machine. I’m not sure where she gets her skills…for sure not from me.

Anyway, we decided that 30 minutes of practice would earn one gumball (sticker) to put in the gumball machine. Students wrote their initials on the stickers. For younger students who don’t count minutes, but practice sessions, we decided that two practice sessions would equal one sticker. 

I gave younger students a punch card to help them keep track of their summer practice.
The gumball machine filled up super fast. We completed the challenge in three weeks! I asked a student to draw a table under the gumball machine so we could start stacking gumballs on top on it and keep the challenge going. He also added a dodo bird, because why not? 🙂

The prize for each student who contributed time to our summer practice challenge was a bag of gumballs!

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Sightreading Challenge

This spring I tried a new sightreading challenge in the studio. I used the sightreading cards from Piano Safari and designed a simple punch card using Word.

The sightreading cards are a wonderful resource. I considered making my own sightreading pages but was pleased to find these. There are three main levels in the Piano Safari sightreading cards (labeled 1-3), each containing multiple levels within (labeled A-R), Each alphabetical label contains 14-16 cards. The level sequencing is developmentally sound, gradually increasing from off-staff reading to hand separate playing to hands together playing in different keys. I also love the dedicated rhythm reading at the bottom of each card.

I set up the sightreading challenge in this way: I made a chart in Excel with each student’s name and sixteen squares to be colored in upon the completion of each card. Most students were able to finish two cards per lesson. I didn’t want to do many more than that per lesson so as not to take up too much lesson time.

In the lesson I would place the card on the piano. With younger students, I would work through the card with them. In the rhythm section, I would point to the rhythm and tap my hand simultaneously to assist the student. With older students, I would give them thirty seconds or so to place their hands in the correct position and practice silently on top of the keys. I would usually tap along with the student in the rhythm section.

After completing sixteen sightreading challenges, students earned a reward, completed their punch cards, earned a badge and finished coloring in their charts.

I made business card-sized sticker badges to hand out to students upon completion of the challenge. I created these in Word and printed them out on sticker paper. Students enjoyed placing them in various places on their studio binders.

I really do believe the sightreading challenge has helped the students improve their reading skills. A little reading challenge in each lesson helps solidify treble and bass clef notes for younger students; and for older students it give them short exercises in different keys.

Some of the benefits:

  1. Separating parts of music – I really thought the dedicated rhythm tapping at the bottom of each card was helpful.
  2. Quick deep dive on intervals – students were asked to identify different intervals, which was an excellent quick review.
  3. Short exercises – the students felt the cards were games, not drudgery at all
  4. Reward – always helpful in motivating students!
  5. Rhythm tapping – I could easily identify weaknesses pertaining to an individual student or to many students. (Some examples – an individual student had trouble tapping both hands together. A few students struggled with the dotted quarter note rhythm.) Having identified these weaknesses, it was easier to concentrate on these skills in the lesson.

Things to do differently next time – I would probably not do so many cards – maybe only ten total. Since we only played through two cards per week, this made the challenge pretty long – about eight weeks.

Student comments:

  • “I like doing those.”
  • “The rhythm tapping is so fun!”
  • “I’m getting better at tapping rhythms.”
  • “I really think I’m getting better at reading music.”
  • “Sightreading is always fun!”

One student asked to continue sightreading upon completing the challenge. This makes me happy!

 

One-Minute Flashcard Challenge

In February we ran the one-minute flashcard challenge. I like to run this challenge periodically to do a little check-up on note-naming among my students. February is a good time to do this because it gives an opportunity for the students to earn an extra prize in those long weeks between Christmas and spring break when it seems not much is happening.

This year the flashcard challenge was divided into three levels:

  1. Level 1 – beginning students who have just started learning notes on the staff and do not know them all yet. They are required to name and play only the notes they know in one minute.
  2. Level 2 – students who can name all the notes on the staff, but are not proficient yet. These students are given a minute and a half to name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef.
  3. Level 3 – these are more advanced students who can name and play all the notes on treble and bass clef in one minute or less.

A little note about why I have my students both name and play the note…I have found that while lots of students can easily name the notes, it is quite another thing to be able to locate that note on the piano. And that’s actually the point of learning the notes – being able to play those notes that show up in our music in the right place on the keyboard.

Each student that completed the challenge (and they all did!) was rewarded a prize and signed their name on the white board. Everyone likes to see their own name displayed, and the board creates a sense of community within the studio as students check out who accomplished the challenge.

The record time was 23 seconds (24 cards in 23 seconds!) and was a tie between a competitive brother and sister. This ended up being a lot of fun as I shared with the other students how the brother and sister kept beating each other and asking to try again. A little competition can be a good thing!

Thanks to Susan Paradis for the flashcard download and for the One-Minute Club Cards! I made the cards into stickers using this printer paper and placed them on/in my students’ binders as a reminder of their accomplishment, kind of like a badge. 

Prize Bin Ideas

Here is a peek into my prize bin:20180116_110528

Some of the things I like to keep stocked are:

Gel Pens and cute music pencils

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Japanese Erasers and other cute erasers

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Emoji Stamps

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Musical clips/bookmarks

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Bubbles, key chains, music bracelets, temporary tattoos

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Slap bands

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Other fun ideas:

  • Magnets
  • Deflated beach balls
  • Fun finds in the Target dollar spot

You can read about some of the challenges I run throughout the year in which students are able to earn prizes. Click on the “Reward Systems” tab on the right sidebar to find ideas!

Practice Challenge 2017/18

As we all know, one of our top challenges as music teachers is motivating our students to practice. Happily, some students are intrinsically motivated and will come to lessons well-practiced and well-prepared. When this happens I can hear the angels in heaven singing and can see the planets aligning in orbit. 🙂

But most of us need a little push. The best way to reinforce a behavior is to reward it. Fortunately, with a little planning, some excitement from the teacher and a prize basket stocked by Amazon, we can reinforce a healthy practice routine somewhat easily.20180116_170513

This year my practice challenge was modeled on last year’s challenge. As I evaluated last year’s challenge, I felt the students had responded well to the challenge and achieved a rhythm of weekly practice because of it. This point became a criteria I use in developing a practice challenge: “Can the student develop a weekly practice rhythm?” This means, does the practice challenge help students develop practice skills which can be consistently maintained. 20180116_085335

Other criteria I ask when developing the practice challenge:

  1. Will the reward be sufficient to encourage practice? How often will the student be rewarded?
  2. What happens if a student exceeds my expectations? Are there extra goals/prizes to work for?20180116_085353

20180116_104557The Plan

Since the challenge was based on last year’s challenge, the plan was very similar to what I had used last year. It went like this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second – eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a line or space on the staff for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prize in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded when the student reached the top of treble clef. This was 2300 minutes practiced, or 115 practice sessions for younger students.

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Some students have already completed the board once and are starting over. They were awarded the DQ gift card and given a colored ribbon to designate the fact that they have completed the board and are on their second round.

Results so far

So far most students have been motivated to practice at least 100 minutes a week, or in the case of younger students, 5 practice sessions. The students seem to be enjoy earning a small prize, even if it’s just a cute little eraser or pencil. Having practice goals help to define their practice sessions, and we talk a lot in the lesson about what to do in practice. The best part about practicing is…you get better! In the end that is the best and most fulfilling reward of all.

Supplies

The treble and bass clef cut outs are from Susan Paradis. The magnetic push pins are from Amazon. 

Other Practice Challenge Ideas

If you would like to read about other practice challenges from previous years, follow these links:

2013-14 The Wall of Wow and recap

2014-15 Bead Chains

2015-16 Brag Tags

2016-17 Practice Challenge

Most Popular Blog Post (Karate Pentascales!) and Updated Free Material

Hi all,

I began writing this blog way back in February of 2011. Our family had moved to Colorado the previous year and I was in the midst of rebuilding my piano studio. Our kids were enrolled in an awesome school and were making new friends and exploring new options.

The music teacher at their new school used a reward incentive when the kids were in fourth grade learning recorders – he would tie a colored ribbon to the end of their recorder when they learned each new piece. I borrowed the idea for the piano studio and it has become my most popular blog post by far. As of today, the post has generated almost 1,100 hits and has been saved over a hundred times on Pinterest since the day it was published in 2011.

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This week I updated the post by expanding the free resources. You are now able to download all the materials needed to teach all twelve major pentascales and all twelve minor pentascales. You can download both the keyboard view:

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 8.10.09 PM

 

and the staff view:Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 8.09.27 PM

 

The post contains instructions of how to use these materials.

I hope you enjoy these free materials and that your students love your fun and rewarding way to teach pentascales!

Let me know how it goes for you!

Practice Challenge

Each year I try to develop a new studio-wide challenge to reward and support my students to excel in one or more main aspects of musical development. Some of the reward challenges from previous years have been The Wall of Wow, Bead Chains, and Brag Tags.

This year my main goal was to promote healthy practice habits. My simple plan was to count and reward practice minutes throughout the entire school year (middle of August – middle of May) of piano lessons. 20160921_144109

I bought magnetic boards, drew straight lines on them and hot-glued them to the inside of the closet door; printed out and laminated keyboards to count minutes; and made magnets for each student. 20170523_142915

The plan

The simple plan was this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second – eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a level (we called it leveling up 🙂 ) for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prized in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded at the 2500 minute/125 session level.

The top of the magnet board was 4300 minutes of practice/215 practice sessions. Eight students were able to achieve that goal and received a special bag. Many of those students chose to start climbing the board again and were thus designated with a special blue ribbon.

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Results

The plan worked well. Most students were able to move up a level every week. I think it’s encouraging, motivational, and community-building for students to see the progress of their peers, which is why I always have the challenge results hanging somewhere in the studio.

Here are the stats from the end of the year:

There were seven younger/beginner students who counted their practice sessions. Collectively they practiced 753 times from mid-August to mid-May.

There were 23 students who counted their practice minutes. Together they practiced 87,555 minutes (that’s over 1,459 hours!).

Not only was the time spent practicing impressive, the results were impressive too. At the end of the year, I discussed with each student how their practicing directly improved their skills and applauded them for time well spent!

I believe it is invaluable to point out and reward practicing, or any other skill you as a teacher are seeking to improve upon in your students. When you draw attention to good behaviors, practices and skills, your students will begin to value those as well.