We Are Learning to (WALT) Ensure That We Use the WALT Approach

Minds in Bloom is pleased to welcome Libby from Curious Fox to the blog today! Libby is sharing the lessons she’s had to learn reminding her how important it is to always use the WALT approach when teaching.

We Are Learning to, or WALT, is an instructional method that ensures that you always make your learning objective clear for students--and for yourself. Our guest blogger shares two times where she failed to make her WALT clear, and her students were unsuccessful is sharing what they had just learned.

WALT (We Are Learning to), “learning intentions,” “learning objectives,” or whatever you like to call them have been around for a long time. They consistently appear detailed in curriculum documents; however, they are less often brought to the direct attention of students. I think this is a shame, as I believe displaying or drawing attention to them during a lesson can play a critical role in assisting students to develop the desired skill. Referring to your learning intention throughout a lesson will encourage your students to make sense of the lesson within the context of the learning intention and encourage them to explicitly focus on developing the desired knowledge or skill.

It may sound like a fairly insignificant component of a lesson, and you’d think that students would just “get” the gist of what you’re teaching them, right?

Well… One day I forgot to display my WALT, and gee, did I regret it! I was teaching a Prep class (5-year-olds) at the time, and we were learning about the letter “p”. We’d been singing a song called “The Purple People Eater” (“It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying Purple People Eater…” Sorry it’s so catchy!). We then drew pictures of what we imagined the Purple People Eater to look like, and we even used the sentence starter, ‘The Purple People Eater…’ during a writing task. I felt a little naughty not having a WALT displayed (I know, daring!), but I figured that the WALT couldn’t be more obvious. At the end of the session, as with any other lesson, I asked my students what the focus of our lesson had been.

The conversation went as follows:

Me: “Why have we been singing ‘The Purple People Eater?'”

My students: [PAUSE] “Because we like dancing,” [PAUSE] “It’s fun,” and [LONG PAUSE] “The Purple People Eater is funny…”

Me: “Mmm, but what are we learning about this week? And why would we be singing the PPPPPPPurple PPPPPPPeople Eater?” (I think I may have even spat on one of my students whilst emphasising the “p” sound.)

My students: “Ummmmm,” “Because it’s purple,” and “Because it eats people.”

Me: “We are learning about the letter ‘p,’ remember?” (I tried to use a friendly tone and forced myself to smile.)

I could not believe that they didn’t get the whole purpose of the lesson! My kids totally missed the learning objective and were clearly more interested in the Purple People Eater itself (…and I can’t blame them really).

This helped me realise why it is important to use WALT with young age groups.

However, it wasn’t until later that I learnt just HOW important using WALT with students is.

I was teaching a Grade 5 (11-year-olds) class when I had another run in with WALT (yes, I forgot to use it again), and I was introducing a writing task. To provide some context, we were reading a book about the Potato Famine, and students were expected to write an historical fiction based on a character from the novel. In this particular lesson, we discussed the different personalities of the characters in the story, revisited narrative text structure, discussed the specific features of an historical fiction, brainstormed appropriate historical vocabulary, and then I modelled a planning strategy for my story and wrote the opening paragraph.

At the end of the lesson, I had a conversation with my students about what the WALT was.

Below is how the conversation went:

Me: “What have we been learning about, Grade 5?”

My students: “Historical vocabulary,” “Paragraphs,” “The potato famine,” “The structure of a narrative,” “Historical fiction features,” “Planning,” “Characters…”

Me: “Well, all of these could be right!” (I was mortified.)

I bet you didn’t guess that the WALT for this lesson was to learn how to plan to write an historical fiction either. You probably had as much of an idea as my Grade 5 class did!

I learnt two things from this lesson. One is that if I want my students to pay particular attention to how they might plan writing an historical fiction and apply this to their own learning, I need to explicitly tell them! I can’t just expect them to read my mind and sift through my mammoth lesson content. The other is that I need to display the learning intention for myself as much as for my students. This is because it helps me stay focussed on what I’m actually trying to achieve, rather than trying to teach eight different things at once!

Moral of the story: Always display and refer to your WALT when you are teaching.

Curious FoxMy name is Libby Stewart, and I’m a teacher and mum from Melbourne, Australia. I love creating resources for my TPT store, Curious Fox, that get my students to use higher order thinking skills and that are intrinsically motivating. I also write a blog named Curious Fox that discusses anything and everything that I think about teaching. Please check them out.

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