I use a motivation program at my school which I call the Incentive System. Should kids work for nothing just because they are supposed to? YES. However, we must reach them if we are going to teach them. Times have changed, and the old ways simply do not work with the same effectiveness anymore. I have tried many things to get kids to work just as many of you have, and none of them seemed to produce the kind of results I am now getting by using an incentive system.
What we do is print up music money (designed by a former student who went into graphic design in college). I use RED paper to print the money on because this is the only color that cannot be copied, as it will turn the copies black. This way a student cannot counterfeit it. We then laminate it in our school library so kids can use the money and turn it back in and we can use it repeatedly throughout the year.
Earning music money through Achievement System pass-offs and rhythms
I give money out if they pass off both of the playing items per line in the Achievement System level sheets. Additionally, they receive the money for clapping and counting aloud assigned rhythms.
Earning music money through required activities before or after school
Students get paid for anything required before or after school except for large group rehearsals (although on occasion, if the rehearsal was really productive and they were exceptionally well prepared, I might pay them). I pay them if they attend master classes, sectionals, or after-school mentoring lessons. Also, I periodically ask a really tough question or ask for someone to play a tough line or exercise and pay them for the correct response or performance example (you can’t stop kids from wanting to do things this way, as you are giving them something). If you use your imagination, you could reward them for things that they might not normally volunteer to do. I don’t have any problems getting kids to help, show up to things, or work hard anymore. I have more kids wanting to pass off items than I have time to listen to them.
Earning music money by working for me before or after school
I also give students incentive money if they work for me before or after school or help other students when asked. If it is going to reinforce qualities I want them to display, I can reward them at first; then once that habit is established, I don’t reward them anymore. I know this sounds like bribery, but after discussing this topic with dozens of directors all around the state of Florida, many are begging for ways to motivate students. I constantly get asked the question “How do you get kids to work?” These are desperate days as there are no fears kids have anymore toward authority, so you can’t threaten them or they will just quit. You can’t wait for nine weeks so you can give them a grade because it is too far away for a typical student. They need something you can give them right now.
When I am out of school, which is an average of 10-12 days a year for professional or line-of-duty responsibilities, I can give the class with the highest score (another future topic) incentive money for winning. I have not had a single detention or referral written while I have been gone in many, many years. Even what I would consider a below average note from a substitute is way above what they experience in the typical classrooms. The point I’m trying to portray is that this is a positive, non-threatening and very successful way of relating to students that works. They want to work for us – many don’t do it for the money, but they enjoy getting it. I suppose it is the same for many of us as band directors.
What can students buy with the music money?
We have a few band parents who shop for items to be placed on our incentive table, which is open during the lunch class period on Fridays only. After the students finish eating lunch on Fridays they may visit the table in the commons area — if they show the parents that they have money. I purchase lots of music items that I want them to buy such as: reeds, valve oil, drum sticks, metronomes, tuners, clarinet thumb cushions, slide cream for trombones, cleaning rags, polishing clothes, etc. I make a large order from a wholesale company and I only do this about 2-3 times per year. The parents get fun stuff such as: folders, pencils, pens, markers, small toys, games, cards, cheap jewelry, gift cards, etc. They buy things that they find on sale or ask store managers to cut them a great deal on. We spend very little money, but try to get things the kids are asking for. Again, it is incentive — what would they want to work for?
Where do we get the money to purchase these prizes?
We have one fundraiser to get money that lasts the entire year. We also have had several parents donate toward this as they want this program for their kids. They believe in it and see (and hear) the results too. We do a Krispy Kreme donuts fundraiser, but you could do anything that will work in your area. There are many ways to do this. We have the entire music department involved in this – band, orchestra, and chorus. As a matter of fact, we are seeing the numbers increase and I do ask students if the incentive program has anything to do with it, and we do get positive responses due to this. The elementary students also hear about it and they are motivated to be involved. Not simply because of this, but certainly could be a part of it, we have 61% of the school involved in music. Please don’t take this as the reason, as there are many other reasons why they want to be involved, but this just might be one of them!
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