In Year 3 we have a five week unit on tempo linked loosely to Saint-Saens “Carnival of the Animals”. The children have to listen to, sing and perform music with different tempi. We only learn five tempo directions in Year 3 – largo, andante, moderato, allegro and presto. The children need to learn the Italian terms and their English names as well as the generic term “tempo”.
The main task is to sing and play the Can-can on xylophones. I explain that Saint-Saens made a slow version of the Can-can and called it “Tortoises”. I then play them the original Can-can and we compare the speeds using Italian terms. Next we sing the Can-can chorus using the tongue-twister. The kids love this. We start “largo” and then repeat the song at a slightly faster tempo. It’s important to continuously refer to the Italian terms every time you get faster or slower. Then we play the Can-can on the xylophones. I teach it by rote to start with, then give out sheets for the children to practice at school and at home. In Year 3, I do not write the letter names for the children, they fill them out in pencil using the C major scale diagram to help them. I give them some time to play on their own and then we play it together in unison. This lesson is repeated with variations for the next two weeks so they have revisited the Italian terms and are fully ready to perform. In the fourth week I record the children individually on the iPad. While I am recording, I book a TA to supervise the class practicing. After the recording, I airdrop the videos to my computer and then label each file. The performance needs to show their fluency and accuracy. I always give them up to three chances to play and pick which one they thought they played best. I don’t believe in high-stakes assessment so multiple chances is ethical and fair. I play these performances to parents at parent-teacher consultations and they love it because they can see exactly what their children can do and how much they are concentrating.
The task has no differentiation but I do send a piano version of the Can-can for anyone who wants to play it at home who is also receiving piano lessons. I also model how to play perfectly; with a couple of mistakes; not great and absolutely awful. The children love this, especially when I make a whole set of dreadful mistakes and they know what they have to do to play the melody as well as possible. Our school doesn’t have many SEND students (although it is 90% EAL) so I haven’t felt the need to make any special allowances, but one student had a TA point at the note names and say them as he played as his reading fluency is poor.
The fifth lesson is a little more relaxed, we still go through the Italian terms but this is the lesson where we bring in a little composition. The children make up their own animal pieces in pairs using any of the instruments in the room and the others have to guess what they could be according to the tempo and the timbre. This lesson has the least amount of learning and is normally a little chaotic but I do think the children need a little bit of unstructured time to experiment using instruments. I always find it is best to put composition at the end of a unit as the children need to have had a lot of structured input before delving out in pairs. I also think it is better to keep it as paired work. When the children get into small groups it normally ends in disaster.
This will not mean that the children have learned about tempo. I get them to write down the five tempos on whiteboards after a month doing something different. I will also ask them to do this again near the end of the school year. We have to interleave learning and allow the brain to forget and then relearn. This makes the learning pathways stronger, coating synapses with myolin. Nothing has truly been learned until it enters an individuals long term memory and so it is important to revisit these Italian terms sporadically so that they can never be forgotten again.