Shoot for the Stars Visual Syllabus & Incentive Program

The new school year has officially begun!  After a couple of weeks of much-needed vacation, my students and I started fall lessons last week… which meant it was time to unveil our new studio theme for the year:

Shoot for the Stars1


For the last couple of years, we’ve tracked student progress using themed visual syllabus sheets that slide into the cover of each student’s assignment binders (you can check out our previous syllabus sheets here and here).   Each syllabus includes a variety of musicianship goals (sightreading, ear training, rhythm, repertoire, performance, creative projects, etc.) that coincide with the state-based curriculum syllabus we use in our studio.

Here’s a peek at this year’s Shoot for the Stars syllabus:

Shoot for the Stars Visual Syllabus

As students work toward and complete their goals, we have fun adding stickers and doodles to the sheet.  It becomes quite colorful by the end of the year!   

I’ve found that I really like using syllabus-based incentives for several reasons:

  • Keeping a visual record of their accomplishments is a great motivator for students (much like checking things off a check-list is for many adults).  
  • The syllabus gives parents an idea of the many skills we work on through the year, and an at-a-glance view of their child’s progress.
  • It’s quick and easy to use in lessons – we simply add a sticker or check mark as goals are completed (no tallying points, counting out music money, etc.). 

Shoot for the Stars2
For a little extra motivation, in addition to working on their individual syllabus sheets, students will also be working together to earn three fun studio rewards.  Each week that they meet or exceed their practice goal, they’ll get to add a sticker to one of the musical “constellations” that have appeared in the studio (at left).   When each constellation is complete, it’s time for a little fun!  Here’s what we’ll be doing to celebrate our accomplishments:

Challenge #1: Piano PJ Week – Pajamas, funky bedtime hairdos and stuffed animals are welcome at group lessons for a week

Challenge #2: Kid’s Choice lesson – students will get to choose their own pieces and select from a “menu” of games and activities at a private lesson (if they’ve been dying to work on the song at the back of their book, it’s the week to try it!)

Challenge #3: End of Year Ice Cream & Music Game Party (last year’s party was such a hit, it just may become an annual last-week-of-school event)

I’ve included a group element in my incentive program for a number of years now, and find that it can be incredibly motivating for many of my students.   Adding a star to the wall gives them a non-competitive, public way to display their achievement – something to point to and be able to say “I did that!”  I’ve also found that opportunities to build camaraderie and have fun with their piano peers are just as rewarding for my students as earning trophies or other awards (they’re also less expensive and more fun!).  

You can download the syllabus sheet from the Studio Aids page.  It’s available as a PDF file, and also in an editable MS Publisher version, for those of you who have Publisher.   The sheets print on 11 x 17 (tabloid) paper.  (Note: My home printer doesn’t accommodate tabloid-size pages, so I always have my syllabus sheets printed at a local print store.)


Shoot for the Stars Visual Syllabus & Incentive Program — 14 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, my team and I just talked about how we need to come up with ways to help our students strive for excellence. Last years piano recital was a royal disappointment for us . The kids just didn’t apply themselves and we felt it was our failure for not motivating and challenging them enough. Thanks so much for this post. I am going to present this whole idea to my team next week. Thank you thank you thank you!

    • I’m glad to be of help! 🙂 I hope you and your team have a wonderful brainstorming session next week, and that your students get off to the start of a great year!!

  2. Jen – I LOVE your yearly themed incentive syllabus programs! It really helps keep me organized on the teacher side of things AND it’s fun for the kids too! I have used your “This is your Brain on Music” and “Mission Music” programs so far and am excited about Shooting for the Stars! I also use your ear training, rhythm and sight reading materials regularly! My students also love all of the FUN games that I get from your blog. Thank YOU for sharing such great details behind your inspirations and for sharing so freely!! You really are amazing and I am such a huge fan of yours!

  3. Oh my goodness! How aesthetic! I have only been teaching for 3 years and I work at a music school so I cannot decorate, but I was researching how to encourage practice and this is fantastic! I cannot wait to try it when we reopen next week. I’ve spent two days looking around your site now and found so many wonderful resources. Your students are so lucky to have such a creative teacher!

  4. Another great idea!! This idea especially will help me adapt this for my piano students at a private school where I have to be portable. I needed something easy/compact to motivate them to practice especially since I do not see the parents often.

  5. I have really been thinking a lot about goal setting this year. This is a wonderful resource to use! I was wondering what type of paper you use to print these and also how they are stored. Do you simply fold these and store in their binders? I am really excited to put this into use to motivate my students!

    • Hi Paula,

      I have my sheets printed on tabloid-sized (11 x 17) paper. That size doesn’t fit through my home printer, so I use my local UPS Store or Office Depot (whoever has the best deal at the time). Most of my students cut the pages in two, then slip them inside the outside front and back covers of their assignment binders. A few of mine prefer to have their own decorations on the outside, so we fold the sheet and place it inside a page protector inside the binder.

  6. Jen, thank you for sharing and inspiration. I will use your idea this year. I love your door decoration. Looks like you did some sawing work. What did you use for the letters? They are spectacular!

  7. I really like this practice incentive. Could you tell us a little more about how you created the constellations on the door-size poster? (materials used, template or free-hand for the music shapes, etc.)

  8. Dear Mrs. Fink,
    My name is Ethan. I am a teenager that teaches piano to some young boys and girls at my church and I thouroghly love your ideas!! They have given my students an extra incentive as well as some extra fun during lesson time! Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas.

    God Bless You,

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