This past week I put a brighly-colored “Outstanding” sticker on a page of a student’s book. She had done an outstanding job learning the piece in one week, and her effort really stood out from past lessons. I wanted her to know that I noticed her work and appreciated it, so I used the sticker in the hopes that it would encourage her to work this hard more frequently.
I know that many piano teachers regularly use award stickers with their students, but I do it only occasionally, when I sense a significant increase in effort or a special performance by a student. A large part of my thinking is that I want the student to desire and appreciate excellent playing for its own sake, not because they are praised or rewarded by a teacher. Of course, I do praise students when they achieve small AND large goals. I believe positive reinforcement is an important part of teaching, and I always look for something to praise before I talk about the problems that need to be fixed.
Music is unique among activities and pursuits. Rarely is there a “winner.” While others might appreciate hearing a performance, the performer must feel the satisfaction and joy in the music, regardless of who else might be listening.
When I sense that a student is especially motivated by stickers, I do tend to use them more, especially to encourage more frequent practicing. The father of one of my younger students let me know that when they started a sticker system for practicing at home, his child went to the piano more frequently, and without prompting.
I’ve come to realize that it’s just in my nature to use vocal praise and not rewards at lessons.