The Donut Practice Contest Fail –  Part One Mmm.. Hot Cocoa-Yay-Donuts!

Last Fall I decided my students needed a practice incentive. My goal was to get all my students practicing consistently. I wanted to keep my classes learning together as a cohort and move through their method books at a good pace. I wanted them to be ready to play at the Christmas recital as an ensemble without having to cram in extra practice sessions at the end.

Some kids don’t need incentives. Music is its own reward, and they already practice consistently. In a perfect world all students would be this way. But in actuality, most  students in my experience, need incentives. Everyone likes to earn bonus rewards. So I introduced the Hot Cocoa Party Contest.

I wanted each class to want their class to shine the brightest, and so I devised a contest where each class could compete against the others. The prize would be  a hot cocoa party based on the class with the most practice hours winning. Each week every student had to show me their practice charts in front of their peers. The goal was that each  student should practice five days a week. I would tally their practice days together. The class with the most practice days would win a Hot Cocoa Party the last week of class before Christmas Break.

The kids loved this contest and our collective practice hours as a studio soared. In the end, one class won the party and felt pretty special. Everyone else had developed consistent practice habits. It was a success in my thinking. So in January I announced a new practice contest.

Doot doo doo!! A Donut Party! One class would earn a donut party as a result of having the most practice hours. Again, the standard was five days of a practice a week. The kids were excited. Everyone loves donuts! The parents thanked me. There would be less nagging at home.

Ahh…I was really busy this semester. My studio had doubled in enrollment. I was teaching music part-time at a private school as well. Really, I was struggling to juggle it all. In my business, I had a little trouble devising a proper chart to record the practicing. So I started tallying it on my white board. Each class was listed and wrote their practice hour numbers on the board. Then I would just use a percentage to make it fair as some classes were semi-private with two students and some had as many as five. I would do the math at the end of the semester.

An obvious problem began to emerge. This problem had been dancing around the recesses of my mind from the Hot Cocoa contest but I had ignored it. Truthfully, the winner of the contest was a semi-private grouping of two older students.

They had an advantage. There were only two of them. It wasn’t quite fair because in a class of five you could also have two students that never missed any practicing.   But the odds aren’t in your favor if you have three more students in your class being less consistent.

This time around, I had a sibling semi-private that never missed a practice session. They were winning but then I had larger classes that had two or three that never missed any practicing but then one or two that did. Hmm. I decided that I might have more than one class that won, but it still wasn’t quite fair. So that dilemma was there to deal with. I decided I would face it later at the end of the contest when I did the math. In the meantime, overall my students were practicing fairly well. Some were stellar. They really loved donuts…and because they were practicing so well, they really loved piano.

But then the catastrophy happened…