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Grain size

Grain Size

One of the biggest challenges when designing PD for teachers is determining how “big” or how “small” our goals for teacher learning should be. Many PD sessions aim to achieve goals too BIG for the session. For example, can teachers really learn to “Understand and Engage the Adolescent Learner” in a two hour workshop? Can we really support teachers to learn “How to Teach Students to Comprehend Literature” in a day?

On the other side of the continuum, “Using Pokemon Cards as Incentives for Participation” might be so small a focus that it loses sight of the forest for the trees. What are the big ideas about participation that teachers need to engage with in order to better support student learning?

In other words, what is the appropriate “grain size” for our goals?

Listen to how these PD leaders work through how to articulate the right grain size of goal for a one-day workshop:

David: We want teachers to learn how to respond to literature.

Sabrina: True, but I think that’s too big for teachers to learn in one day.

David: What if it were: How to teach students to respond to literature?

Sabrina: This is more focused on practice, which is great, but is it still too big for a one-day workshop?

David: Okay then: How to teach students to use talk when responding to literature?

Sabrina: This is  much more specific, which I love! Do you think teachers could learn this to the point of enactment in just one day?

David: How about: Asking great questions to support more meaningful responses to texts? That way, as they focus on questions, they will still be learning about developing response, in general.

Sabrina: This is both specific and teachable - let’s do it! Asking great questions is not obvious, and teachers need support to learn how to do it better. And, as you say, at the same time, this little piece about questioning will help teachers learn more about the whole response process. Great!  


Here we see how David and Sabrina were trying to find the right “slice” of the whole. We are confident that if teachers get better at asking great questions to support more meaningful responses to texts, that teachers will in fact get better at responding to literature in general.)