Boulder, Pebble, Sand

This tool helps teams to narrow the focus for a Sprint.

The Boulder, Pebble, Sand Process

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Use this tool to:

  • Reduce the scope and grain size of intended practice improvements
  • Break down more complex practice changes into the component ‘manageable’ parts

Step 1 – Orient the team
While it is admirable to have ambitious goals for our professional development, it’s equally important to work on realistic, incremental and manageable shifts. In working through this tool, the aim is to reduce the ‘grain-size’ of our practice improvement, so that we narrow our focus on something that is achievable during a 2 – 4 week Sprint phase.

Step 2 – Define your Boulder Focus
Collectively, come to a decision about the broad area in which you’d like to improve.
This may be a general focus for practice improvement, e.g. Teacher questioning, guided reading, feedback strategies, using learning intentions or improving formative assessment.

Step 3 – Define your Pebble Focus
Collectively, discuss a finer-grain component of your boulder focus that would make the goal for practice improvement clearer. Consider the following:

  • What is a sub-component of this that we could work on?
  • What smaller slice of this would be a helpful focus for a Sprint?
  • Which sub-element of this practice should we work on first?

Record your Pebble Focus, e.g. Questioning to check for understanding

Step 4 – Define your Sand Focus
Finally, reduce the size of your focus for practice improvement further by getting even more specific about what you will work on in the classroom. Your sand focus should represent a real change to practice, but be small enough to tackle in a single Sprint.

Record your Sand Focus, e.g. Use mini-whiteboards to check for understanding in the opening part of every mathematics lesson.

If your Sand Focus seems too small for a Sprint, it is probably about the right size! Committing to incremental practice change allows you to meaningfully sequence small shifts, which add up to big gains over time – so keep it small and focus on the right things in the right sequence.