Using Goal Sheets for Student Motivation

Chip De Stefano

Ninety percent of being a band director is motivating others. We must motivate our students to practice and strive for excellence. We convince parents to purchase quality instruments and to secure a private instructor for their children. We also spend time advocating the importance of music education and securing monetary support from our administrators. Finally, we must motivate ourselves to stay “up” for every rehearsal and lesson, even on those days that we are physically and emotionally spent.

Having your students fill out goal sheets can serve as a terrific tool for student motivation. Students feel ownership of their learning when they feel they have an impact on the final result. By reading our students’ goals, we have an awareness of their hopes for the program and where they would like to see themselves at the end of the year. Once we have this knowledge, we can help them reach these goals and, in some cases, shape their expectations to a more educationally sound foundation.

Once incorporated, students become much more intrinsically motivated to learn, improve, and take responsibility for their musical education. There are a few things educators can do to make goal sheets effective:

1. Let the students know your goals for the program.

Students, especially younger ones, can have a skewed perception of what our hopes for them and the ensemble are. By listing our goals for the ensemble, we can clear up some of these misconceptions and the students see what is truly important to us. Be sincere while listing your goals for yourself and ensembles. Keep your standards and expectations high.

Putting our own goals down on paper has an additional side effect. It keeps us honest with ourselves concerning our own learning and ensures our continued growth as musicians and teachers.

2. Have the students set personal goals and ensemble goals.

Left uninstructed, most students will primarily focus on their personal goals (making honor bands, solo and ensemble results, and chair placement). By having students also set ensemble goals, they are forced to come up with goals that have nothing to do with extrinsic rewards, and may be more educationally sound.

Insist that your students put thought into this assignment. Inevitably, some will just write one or two word fragments in order to complete the assignment as quickly as possible. Ask the offending students to repeat the assignment as many times as it takes to fix the problem.

3. Give written feedback to each student’s goals.

It’s not enough for our students to know where they want to be. They must also know how to get there. Giving written comments, also provides us with the opportunities to push private lessons, extra practicing, and guide our students towards our educational philosophy.

This written feedback can also be used to de-emphasize the importance of contests and stress the importance of the quality of performance and what we learn about the music. Try to keep the students’ minds on improvement, and not just on their personal chair placement.

Be positive and encouraging with your remarks. Make sure it’s clear that they have your complete support, no matter how difficult achieving their goal may be. It some cases it may be necessary to outline a step by step plan for them to achieve their goal.

Have the students obtain their parents’ signature on their goal sheet with your feedback. Insist that they post a copy of their goal sheet somewhere where they will see it every day.

4. Return the original goal sheets halfway through the year.

Returning the goals sheets halfway though the school year can have additional motivational impact. Students either celebrate in their successes or realize that they may need to give a greater effort the remainder of the year. Either way, the students are able to assess their progress and set their sights on the future.

Chip De Stefano received both his Bachelor of Music in Trombone Performance (1994) and Master of Music Education (1996) degrees from Northwestern University and is Currently in his sixth year as Director of Bands at McCracken Middle School in Skokie, Illinois. Under his leadership, the McCracken Middle School Symphonic Band has received first division ratings at all district and state organization contests of the Illinois Grade School Music Association. In 1999, 2000 and 2001 the McCracken Middle School Symphonic Band was invited to perform at the prestigious University of Illinois Superstate Concert Band Festival. The 1999-2000 Symphonic Band received perhaps the two highest honors a middle school band in Illinois can be awarded with its unanimous selection as Honor Band at the Illinois Superstate Festival and its invitation to perform at the 2001 Illinois Music Education Association State Conference.

As a published arranger and composer, Mr. De Stefano has received commissions from the marching bands of Northwestern University, Samford University, the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, the University of Idaho and dozens of high schools from across the United States. His works have been performed on ABC’s 1996 Rose Bowl Halftime Show, Live! with Regis and Kathy Lee, and WBBM News Radio 780.

Mr. De Stefano’s professional affiliations include the Music Educators National Conference, the Illinois Music Educators Association, the National Band Association, the International Trombone Association, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

Mr. De Stefano is a recipient of three National Band Association Citations of Excellence (1999, 2000, and 2001) and the 2001 Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator award. He is active nationally as a clinician and adjudicator.