Reply To: Rewards for successful practice?

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I’ll share what I do with my middle school band, although I’ll admit it doesn’t work perfectly for me.

I have a minimal effort system of “section points” that I just keep up on a corner of the white board for the whole year. I award points for things like coming early to rehearsal to help set-up, if I notice someone being helpful to another student, if a section plays something particularly well in rehearsal, if someone plays a great solo, if a section is quiet when others are talking, even for arriving to rehearsal on-time if there are days when this is a problem (I teach zero period…). What makes the biggest difference for sections though is individual practice time – I keep a chart on the wall where students can track their practice minutes by week (and it’s just honor system). For every 60 minutes of practicing the section gets one point. Then at the end of the trimester, I divide the point totals by the number of students in the section, and the winner gets some kind of (healthy) treat. I’m not allowed to give out candy or sweets either, so I usually go with small Jamba Juices, or chips and salsa at lunch, or bagels and cream cheese before school. I should also say that my school and my band are small, so it’s not a huge financial burden for me.

I do keep practice cards in my 5th grade band that effect students grades, so my hope is that by the time they reach the middle school they understand that practicing is important and have developed the habit. I always have trouble getting middle schoolers to sign up for my very-early-in-the-morning band though, so I’ve decided, for better or worse, to take the pressure of signed practice cards off them. I think (I hope) that they know they are responsible for their parts, they can always come in at lunch or after school to practice (and many do), and they will be rewarded for that extra effort.

I also do playing tests of excerpts at the end of every trimester, so I think the fact that they know they will be tested and performing the material encourages practice to a certain extent….

It’s not perfect in that there are a certain number of students who really care about they way they sound, the way the group sounds, and will compete for a treat (even a small one). There are also a certain number of students who are sleepy in the morning, can’t think or plan ahead to bring the instrument home to practice, and aren’t that interested in getting a smoothie at lunch, who are just content to be a member of the group and let others do the work. I think it’s my job as a teacher to try to encourage students like that to make positive changes, but we all know sometimes those efforts are rewarded and sometimes not.

Like I said, it’s not a perfect system, and if I had a big band at a big school that was scheduled during the school day, I would be stricter about practice. But for my situation, this does help!