Posted Date: 11/22/2019
Before returning to teaching as a vocal music at Chanute Elementary, Mendy Burnett had 30 students coming to her for private piano lessons. Believing that music education positively impacts academic skills, she frequently showered her principals with articles about the benefits of playing a musical instrument.
“I particularly like the piano because it is so versatile and supports spatial reasoning skills,” Burnett said. Piano students must learn to read both the bass and treble clef at the same time. If they can do that, learning to play another instrument that requires reading only one staff is much easier, she explained.
Last spring, her principal asked if she’d like to teach piano keyboard skills to her students at CES. At first she was excited, then overwhelmed, then she was grateful that she’d have all summer to figure out how to do that with nearly 400 children in her classes at CES.
Now a dozen keyboards sit on new shelves along one wall of her music room. Two more have been placed in the school’s Great Rooms where the second through fifth graders gather each morning before school begins.
She began this fall, giving introductory lessons on the keyboards to large groups.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, two to a keyboard, the students watched Burnett show them how to play three notes with three fingers. She told them to shape their fingers like they were holding a tennis ball.
“There are 88 keys on the piano and you have 10 fingers on your hands, so you will need to use them all to be able to play,” she said. The fingers can’t lay flat across the keys and still reach the other keys.
After practicing on opposite sides of the keyboard, each pair played individually for their teacher, and then tried playing together.
Burnett set up a system of incentives for the students to earn more lessons. Those who completed work sheets on notes and fingering would earn practice time on the keyboards in the school’s Great Rooms.
“Students who have completed a practice time will have the opportunity to work with one of my high school keyboard coaches,” Burnett added.
With administrative support, she recruited 10 high school students with piano training to give mini lessons to students once a month after hours at the school. The elementary students get more training, and the high school students get to share their skills.
Burnett said there is a shortage of piano teachers in Chanute.
“I am regularly asked to give more lessons and I don't have any more time. I’m hoping this will allow some high schoolers to begin to feel comfortable giving lessons and maybe have the opportunity to do that as a part time job through high school and college,” she said. “In return, my students, who are too numerous for me, will have some individual lesson time with a cool high schooler. It is a win-win.”
Though she tried to plan everything out, Burnett has had to be flexible. The excitement from the students and the support from teachers and administration has made it all worth it.
“Teaching piano to 400ish students at one time is different.”