5 Reasons Why I Refuse to Give Awards to My Students

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All teachers search for ways to keep their students motivated. Certificates and trophies are easy, albeit expensive, motivators and many studios are proponents of award-based systems of learning. You will never see any of my students with an award coming out of their studio recitals. Here are some reasons why I never started the practice of student awards:

1) If everyone gets an award it lessens the value of the award.
Awards are meant to be special. They are meant to recognize extraordinary work on the part of the person receiving the award. When everyone gets an award it makes what should be an honor commonplace.

2) Music isn’t about competition.
Music is art. Music is expression. The creation and performance of music are an expression of the soul. To start ranking and pitting one soul against another is just a recipe for disaster. While I can think of many friends that I have who feel competition has pushed them to their best, I still hold true the beliefs that: the experience of music is different for each person, cultural traditions and life events shape individual tastes in music, negative opinions about one’s interpretation even from the most esteemed judge are not written in stone. When we bring children especially, young children into a world of competitive music without these understandings we do them a huge disservice for in their pursuit of the win they miss an organic understanding of the nature of art.

3) Opportunity is it’s own reward.
Most private lesson studios have their own annual recitals and most of them allow every student in the studio to participate. My students don’t get the right to play in a studio recital unless they earn it. That means they have to demonstrate their preparedness to perform a given work at least one month before the recital. To pass their recital benchmark it means they not only know how to play their piece but they can tell you about the work as well as the composer of the work.

4) The result is empowered students.
As firm as these teaching principles might be, they do yield wonderful results. The students who did not demonstrate preparedness for the last recital are more dedicated in practice than they were prior to the recital. They realize that only through proper focus and effective practice methods will they be able to play in the upcoming recital. They realize that it was their choice to skip practicing or lessons that caused them not to be included in the last recital but they also realize that it is completely possible to turn this around and participate in the next recital. This lesson radiated out into other parts of their life and I’m happy to say that it has improved their academic habits.

5) Praise means more.
When I say, “____________, you did a great job! I’m really proud of how you shaped your phrases.” it means something more to my students than just regular pandering. They understand what it means to critique something because all my teaching is focused on empowering the student to think critically.

Am I saying that every studio should abolish the practice of excessive trophy giving? No, because for some teachers it works, but I think that every teacher should evaluate how their motivational methods help or hinder a student to become an independent critical thinker.


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