Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No more initialed practice sheets!

   Last summer I made the decision to cease having parents initial practice sheets when I noticed some parents signing them in the driveway as the student arrived for the lesson --then the student would come in very obviously unprepared. I had been awarding practice ribbons based on those initials- big mistake. People who did not practice undeservedly received the award.
   Thanks to the piano teachers who share their ideas on a blog, I found someone who uses a rating system. Not only has this GREATLY improved my students preparedness, but this year I have seen the most progress overall. As soon as I can remember who I got this idea from, I will acknowledge them at once!
   Each week I now rate my student's lesson on how well they can demonstrate their assignment. Of course I don't count it against them when they have genuine difficulty understanding something, but overall, its apparent to me if they practiced or not (and how much they practiced) as soon as their hands hit the keys.
   Thanks to Music Teacher's Helper, I was able to edit the lesson notes email template with a description of this rating. I email the rating to parents each week automatically as I reconcile the lesson. The student is immediately held accountable for what they did, rather than what the quickly dashed-off parental initials said they did.
   Immediately following the lesson, my students receive the same number of beads as their rating to string on their practice chain. The practice chains hang in my waiting room and are a HUGE HIT !  Students have a visual reminder of just how daily practice builds over time. They can see what their peers are accomplishing at the same time and this can help a student who may be lagging behind with their practice habits very quickly. Because the beads are black and white, some students chose to emulate piano keys while others just do their own pattern...and some are just randomly strung. Right now, many are into their 2nd keyboard (88 beads, of course) - the first and second keyboards are seperated by 2 stars.

   At the end of the year, the students who consistently rated 4's and 5's will receive the 1st place practice award. They've EARNED it.

Here is the system I use:

1=Student was completely unprepared and likely did not practice much at all during the week. Progress may be lost. Supervised practice is necessary. 
2=Student may have practiced a bit, but was unable to demonstrate a minimum 50% of their assignment at the lesson. Progress was limited this week. Supervised practice is strongly recommended.
3=Student practiced, but could not demonstrate a mastery of the assignment. Home practice habits may need to be reviewed or the student may have failed to complete the assignment by forgetting written work, leaving a book at home, or forgetting to read the assignment instructions and could not demonstrate the instruction in the lesson. Progress may be limited.
4=Student practiced, completed the assignment, and demonstrated a satisfactory understanding of the entire assignment in the lesson. This was a job well done! The student will progress quickly.
5=Student not only practiced the assignment, but went beyond and played even better than I expected. Student may have looked ahead or practice more than was assigned. Student will progress VERY quickly.

Credit for the bead idea goes to Piano Perspectives.
For the latest version of this year's practice chains- read the following post.....


  1. Hi, Suzanne, just discovered your blog, and am happy I did! This is a fabulous idea. Gonna have to steal it!

  2. Hi Laura,
    Thanks so much for your comment. I hope this works for you- its worked wonders with my students!


  3. Love this idea! I also am a new subscriber and enjoying your posts. ;)
    I don't know if you have seen my blog, thought I'd share it as well if you are interested:

    Keep up the great blog! :0)

  4. Thanks Jennifer! I love your blog!!

  5. What an outstanding suggestion! Perhaps its a professional hazard of the music instructor to be constantly faced with a certain number of unprepared pupils, however i'm assuming there are just as many offenders in math and language tutoring as well. I'm constantly looking around for new ways of motivating my students to actually practice, and there are probably as many different incentives as there are students, from chocolate, praise, and prizes on the positive side to frowny faces, and disappointment on the negative. One trick i've developed, I use a "Sonic Screwdriver" prop from the British science fiction program "Doctor Who" to analyze the sonic properties of the students instrument after i've had them perform the chosen piece, and after the gizmo lights up, flashes, and makes some exciting spacey whirring noises I "read" the number of minutes they practiced since the last lesson. Sure, its a gimmick, and a few of my (teenage) pupils are rightfully dubious, but most of them are amazed that I can get such an accurate measurement of their discipline. Of course, its my evaluation of their performance that informs me, rather than some technological marvel, but whether they realize that or not its a fun way of assessing a weekly practice regimen. I'm going to start implementing your suggestions at from now on, the more weapons we have in our motivational arsenal the better!