Here in St. Louis, we are currently under an Ice Storm Warning and my regular Suzuki Saturday classes have been cancelled, so even though it is a Saturday, it feels like a Snow Day. Having moved here from upstate New York, I tend to laugh at the hysteria that takes hold of Missourians when there is more than a dusting of snow (Cancel school! Mob the grocery store! It’s the Apocalypse!), but the weather reports for this storm aren’t looking good, so I’m glad to be warm and cozy inside and working on getting ready for our new semester, which starts on Tuesday. One of the things I’m finishing up is my new practice challenge. I love a good theme, and this semester’s theme is “Viola Hero”, like Guitar Hero but for viola. I also have a few violin students, so they get to use the “Violin Hero” Chart. Both charts are available at my TpT store. Here’s a sneak peak of the Viola Chart:
The Weekly Lesson Chart
I have pretty much always used a weekly practice chart for lesson assignments which my older students read and check off as they practice throughout the week. As I have gotten to know my students better, I began to see patterns in practicing. Some students were perpetually under-prepared and never seemed to check off all their practice days. Other students could get a solid 7 days of practice one week, while the next week they only managed 3 days. Some students were highly self-motivated and I never had to ask them to practice, while with some students I felt I was nagging them each week about practicing more and it was dragging us both down. I wanted a fun way to give my students some extra motivation and accountability for their practice as well as helping me keep track of who was practicing and who wasn’t. Some of my string-teaching colleagues have run practice challenges, so I decided to give it a go and I have been running a semester practice challenge ever since.
How the Charts Work
I teach at a school with an 18 week semester, so I make charts to fit that amount of time, with two extra weeks for extra credit. If a student has filled out their practice chart, they get to fill in a box for that week. Filling in the box becomes a little beginning-of-lesson ritual that students look forward to and which gives me a chance to acknowledge their achievement in practicing consistently that week. Depending on the theme of the practice challenge, filling in the box may mean a check mark, making the lightsaber a bit longer, or coloring in a snowflake. This past semester, I used Crayola Stampers Markers, which perfectly fit in each box and are more fun than a check mark. You can get those at big box stores like Target, or from Amazon.
Keeping Up the Motivation
Since 18 weeks evenly divides into 5 groups of 4, I give little treat around once per month for students who have made it to the next “level”. This doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming! In the past, I have cut out strips of stickers from a $1 sticker pack from the Dollar Tree or Michaels, or have given each child a few chocolates or other treats. I never tell students what the treat is ahead of time because I find the surprise keeps it interesting. I like to have a bit of fun tying in the treat to the theme of the practice challenge. For example, when I ran a Star Wars-themed practice challenge last year, one of the prizes was “Han Solo Rolos”. This semester, for “Viola Hero”, I’m thinking of handing out Pop Rocks Candy, Chocolate Rocks Candy (can you tell I love puns?), and Rock n’ Roll Temporary Tattoos. I have a very mixed-age studio (currently ages 4 through 17) and was initially worried that the older students would roll their eyes at the treats, but I quickly discovered that everyone loves a bit of candy or a sticker! High school students have so much on their plates these days, I think they enjoy getting a little treat every once in awhile. For the younger kids, having the treat to look forward to each month gives them a shot in the arm to keep going.
I like to offer extra credit before each 4 week mark for students who have fallen behind. One goal I have for this semester is to help my students become better note readers, so I’m in the midst of designing extra credit note-reading worksheets that complement the Quick Steps to Note Reading Books that I use with my Book 1 students. And, of course, the worksheets are Rock n’ Roll Themed.
Do you run a practice challenge? How do you encourage your students to practice? I would love to hear from you.