As the school year races to a close (about 6 weeks left!), I always try to have some sort of contest going to keep my students motivated to work in music class. Last year I had a list of songs I challenged them to learn (memorized!) before the end of the year. This year is a bit more complicated, and I have different classes doing many different things, so I came up with something else...and I must say, I really love this year's idea so much that I may keep it for several years.
Music class has taken a cue from the old school arcade: each student, and the class as a whole, can earn points towards rewards that will be given during the final music lesson for each class. Anyone that's every played Skee-ball (or any other ticket bestowing arcade game) for hours in pursuit of tickets to spend at a prize booth will understand the basis of how this works.
Each activity in the lesson is worth a set number of points. If the class completes it successfully (excellent participation, no whining, etc), then they get the points for that activity. Most activities are worth about 10 points, but more complicated or time consuming tasks are sometimes worth more (15-20), and activities that are completely a review are sometimes worth only 5 points. I love the versatility of this - each class can participate in the contest and be doing totally different things suited to their grade level.
Every solo sung correctly is worth 5 points. The students really love this one because the solos are often short. We use echo songs, and a student has to lead the song instead of me. This is a total win, because I get to hear (and easily keep track of) each student who leads the class and determine where they really are with their singing level, and they often earn a ridiculously high number of points for the day. I do have a set number of volunteers I take for the day though - otherwise they would do this for the whole lesson. Since I have it noted down who sang solos the week before (and the week before that, etc), it isn't too hard for me to get to students I would rarely hear otherwise. So far I've only taken volunteers, and I've had students volunteer to sing solos who have never asked to do this before. But you really do have to be particular about only awarding points for solos sung EXACTLY right. If the solo part is supposed to be on the pitches "So-Mi-Mi-So-Mi" and the student sings the right words but on the pitches "So-Mi-La-So-Mi"...then it isn't right, even if they sing in the right key and with a lovely vocal quality. It pays to be picky though.
Questions answered correctly are worth 1 point each, if done using the correct procedure. For example, if I ask for them to raise hands and wait to be called on...then a shouted out answer earns nothing. But if we are using the whiteboards and they hold it up when they have the answer, then that is following the procedure for using whiteboards to answer questions...and the answer is worth a point.
Each student may earn 1 point for the day for Excellent Behavior. If every student in the class earns their point, I add a 20% bonus to the total of Behavior Points. Excellent Behavior is defined very specifically to mean: following directions the 1st time, no outbursts or interruptions, full participation in all activities without whining, keeping hands/feet/objects to yourself, sitting criss-cross when we are on the rug, raising hand and waiting to be called on to speak...and all without reminders in the middle of class. It's that last clause that really gets them, but is saving my sanity. I do give one class reminder about this definition at the beginning of each class period as a freebie, but after that, any reminders given to an individual count against them. Also, if I catch them out at not following any of those expected behaviors, I do not have to remind them in order to withhold the point. At the end of class, we go down the roster quickly and I let them know if they met my requirements. I also remind them that failing to get a point doesn't mean I am angry with them, and does not mean they were "bad"...but that there is a difference between good and excellent...and I only reward excellent behavior. Good isn't enough...good means you still have some small details to work on and polish up. Anyway, it's saving my sanity because I'd just about had it with having to constantly remind students with inane but important details like how to sit on the rug. The amount of time I spend in any given class giving simple redirections has been cut drastically in the last two weeks. I am pleased. It's rare for a class to earn the bonus, but it has happened a few times.
For truly disruptive behavior or terrible attitude, I actually deduct 5 points from a student for the day...and it's a guaranteed deduction if I have to send anyone to an administrator. I also reserve the right to deduct at least 5 points (or more) for misbehavior while lining up and leaving my class after the day's point totals have been tallied and announced. That part about lining up and leaving my class in a civilized and quiet way or else I zap the points just earned? Solved my end of transition problems at my more challenging campus practically overnight. All but 2 classes got the message immediately, one class took getting nailed for the violation once...and I have one class that still doesn't understand at all, and probably won't reach their end of year goal now because of it.
All of my prizes are activity choices for their final music lesson of the year. As such, I can back up all of them with TEKS - no one can try to tell me that I'm wasting my instructional time, as each lesson has legitimate backing, even if they are a bit out of the norm...and not lessons even I would use on a weekly basis.
The top prize takes 500 points: an XBox360 "party" where they can choose one of my 9 music games to play for the class time and eat snacks that I provide. For 450 points, they can have snacks and I choose which game, or they can choose the game and they have no snacks. For 400 points, I choose the game, and there are no snacks.
For 300 points, they can watch a movie from a set list and eat snacks. All movies on the list are sing-along friendly. For 250 points, I choose the movie and they eat snacks, or they choose the movie and they have no snacks. For 200 points, I choose the movie and there are no snacks.
For 175 points, they can choose pretty much any musician or group of musicians and I will create a "Behind the Music" documentary for them on my computer and make the whole day about their life and music. Majority rules on the voting for who the documentary is about.
For 150 points, they can vote on 3 songs from the radio that they want to learn. All song submissions must be school appropriate and chosen in advance so I can learn them first. Again, majority rules for voting.
For 100 points, they may have a full lesson on recorders or percussion (depending on age group).
For 75 points, they play music bingo and I provide prizes for bingo winners. For 50, we'll still play music bingo, but without prizes to take home.
The Fine Print
Like any contest, we do have some fine print involved. For instance, each of the XBox games has a set list of songs I have pre-approved for them to play. Students are not allowed to choose anything off the list, period. I also line out that they may not bring any of their own equipment for the game console, and if they bring their own equipment that I will turn their stuff into the front office. This is also where I specify that they may not have their prize before their final class date, no matter how quickly they rack up their points, and that they do not have to choose the highest tier prize within their point level if they want something that costs fewer points instead. It's a fairly simple introduction to the legal style jargon that goes with contests of all types...and it has saved me tons of time answering questions about "what if..." and "can I..."
Finally, I devote one of my bulletin boards in my room to information about all this. They can see easily on a bar graph how far along their class is, and how far along the other classes are also. They can read about the prizes and how to earn points and the fine print to remind themselves of how things work. Alongside the practical reasons for keeping it posted, putting it in bar graph form also helps me support math and science TEKS, as they get practice reading and interpreting the graph. During class, everything is noted on a printed up class roster. From there I can easily track who answered questions, who sang successful solos, who has behavior issues, who was not in class that day, etc. There's enough blank space on it for me to jot notes about which activities they completed, how many points I awarded for it, and when. I'm sure there's a more elegant way to track that somehow, but this is working for now. I'll put that under the elements that I think could be improved for next year.
So far, this little experiment has met with resounding success. I do still have a few nay-sayers, but those are the ones that are going to dig in their heels at everything for no reason at all. You can't win them all...especially when by ALL you mean close to 700 young people. I would say that I have fewer than 10, all told, who are that level of difficult. It's hard for me to complain about less than 2% of my student population being truly obstinate. The others that present difficulty are perfectly great kids who have a tendency to be forgetful or impulsive and it gets them into a tight spot every so often. I can't judge the forgetful and impulsive ones too harshly, when I myself am often guilty of being both forgetful and impulsive also. When I get frustrated, I do have to remember to look at the big picture!