Extrinsic rewards

Amy said: Nov 28, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

I have twin 3 1/2 yr-old students who just started Suzuki violin with me a couple months ago. A few weeks ago I pulled out some pennies to use in teaching them good practice technique. The grandmother brings them to lessons, practices with them, funds their lessons, has read Nurtured by Love, makes sure they listen to the cd several times per day, and is in general a model Suzuki parent. However, she is concerned that by having the boys earn pennies as they practice well, they will never build a desire to practice well without the reward. I agree that the goal is to nurture them to develop good practice technique without needing to use extrinsic rewards, but I’m concerned that young children can’t see the connection between how they practice now and what they will be able to do in 2-3 years. I think they need a certain amount of extrinsic motivation that provides an immediate sense of success in order to bring them to the place where they see a connection between how they practice and how successful they are in playing the violin. Any thoughts on pursuing further discussion with the grandparent?
Thanks,
Amy B

Barb said: Nov 28, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Here’s a thought… do we give pennies to children for learning to speak? While there might be more intrinsic motivation to learn to speak (be able to communicate), I think the extrinsic motivation would be the delight of the parents—and that should also be there in learning music.

I think the grandmother is right, that it could be a dangerous practice, but each child is different, and they will go through ages and stages…

I prefer stickers, smiles, hugs and praise for hard work at a young age. (Smiles and praise for hard work at any age!!)

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Paula Bird said: Nov 28, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

I know the arguments about rewards and motivation. I’ve read that book. However, I want to point out that I get raises for a job well done, even though I think of it as DOING my job. Still, I get merit raises. I also get special awards and acknowledgements for contributions that I make above and beyond the norm. Is it wrong for a student to “reward” me by sending me an appreciation note? One could make that argument.

I use pennies, chips, anything small enough to use as counters, including beads, cards, and charts. I hold the line at pennies though; no inflation is allowed!

I like the way Ron Clark does it (Rule 15 in his book: The Essential 55):

“At times throughout the year, I will give rewards for good behavior, academic performances, and other acts worthy of praise. If you ever ask me for a reward, however, it will not be given. It is rude to ask if you are getting something for good behavior.”

Mr. Clark goes on to explain in much more depth as to how he relates this to his students’ future in the workplace, but he has an effective mechanism in place now to begin teaching this rule. If a student conditions performance on whether or not they get something for it, then they get nothing.

I use these “rewards” as counters rather than as “rewards” as we know it. The children earn these rewards for what efforts they make in lessons and practice, just as I also earn a salary for my efforts in the workplace. I think of these things as similar.

So perhaps there is some middle ground place that you can find with the grandmother. I think you can enter into an interesting discussion together about this. If you were to treat the “reward” system as something other than rewards, then perhaps both of you can agree.

Just yesterday I had a lovely lesson with a difficult 7-year old. I cut out a little construction paper rectangle, used a black marker to write “Star Lesson” on it along with 5 stars, and announced to the student at the start of the lesson that I had this to give her. BUT, she had to earn it by doing 7 tasks (the same 7 tasks on her home practice list as it turns out, wink, wink), and if she finished these 7 things, she not only got to pin the little sign on her shirt (and maybe take it to school the next day too), but I had a surprise for her if we had time left over in her lesson.

That difficult child’s eyes lit up, she grabbed her violin, and off she went. We had a fabulous lesson! No complaints, no dawdling, no silliness. Everything went as perfectly as I would have wished. And, we had time left over to do a special memory game activity with my phone. I’m going to make up a bunch of different paper signs for my other students. Sometimes the simplest things will work. Even having a child earn plastic chip counters for placing their fingers on the correct finger tapes will have an effect on the child, especially if they earn the chip and then I get to “steal” it from them for incorrect placement. This even works with teenagers.

A construction paper sign reward? Not much of a reward if you ask me. Did she work to earn it? Yes, she did, and she did a great job. Should she have done this anyway? Absolutely. However, I am teaching her. I cannot expect her to get it right away. This will become a habit, and believe me, the need for these little rewards will dissipate and finally disappear. I’ll bring them back again if needed on occasion.

We really had a great lesson. It cost me pennies and seconds to make this little construction paper sign. Of course, making it out of pink construction paper, which happened to be the child’s favorite color, was sheer brilliance on the part of her teacher. :D

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Barb said: Nov 28, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thanks Paula,

I like that stuff from Ron Clark!

I think your idea of the sign or badge is great—probably worth much more to the child than a monetary reward. And the games with chips etc.—all good.

Once I played a game with a student using bread tabs—I had a small collection that was handy! I was so surprised how he treasured those and wanted to keep them! He later used them as counters, sliding them along the edge of a metal stand. (Glad I hadn’t used some precious jewels or something!)

I don’t mind the idea of using pennies (or whatever) to play a game as you describe where they can earn and can lose them. I’m just not wild about paying kids to practice. I did have one parent who did that (more than pennies)—he eventually quit.

I think rewards might be most effective when not a constant thing, like with your games and sign, or Mr. Clark’s “at times throughout the year”. What do you think?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Amy said: Nov 29, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

Thank you all for your ideas about using rewards. When I pulled out pennies at the lesson a few weeks ago, we used them as counters for excellently-performed repetitions. (I did not,however, take back pennies for poorly-performed repetitions. I prefer to teach that aspect of practicing after they have figured out the correct repetition thing.) One frustration I have in this particular case, is that the grandmother seems to assume that anything I give the children (which so far is 8 pennies at one lesson, and often a single small piece of candy at the end of the lesson) is an unnecessary reward. I know that the family is very generous with the children, so I suspect I am not clearly communicating the purpose of the pennies or the piece of candy. I also really want to respect the wishes of the grandmother, so I think I’m mostly wondering how to go about communicating the purpose of using pennies (or skittles, chips, etc.) to count repetitions in practice.

Thanks.

Barb said: Nov 29, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Amy,
I’m afraid I misunderstood your original post. I thought you had sent pennies home for the grandmother to use at every practice. Using them in teaching on occasion is a different matter.

If it comes down to not giving the child something, though, another idea I like is from the Parents as Partner’s video from James Hutchins last year or the year before. He took a small bit the child was working on (about 6 notes), and if it was practiced well, he was a “better musician” and could take a step forward. If it was not played well, he took a step back. The goal was to reach 7 steps, I think (crossed his studio from door to window). Just the thought of being a better musician made the student slow it down and be careful. As we can’t take steps with our cellos in playing position, I’ve modified it…. I have a little animal eraser which hops across little colored chips.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Carmen said: Nov 30, 2012
 13 posts

We too really liked the James Hutchins 7 steps idea when we saw the video last year.  With my 8 yr old dd, we have a beloved toy bear do the 7 steps to its “steak” dinner (the rosin).  Or pretend the rosin as a carrot for a stuffed bunny and mark 7 steps on the floor for it to move towards the carrot.  I imagine it could work using small action figures as well.


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