eCoaching Tip 85 Using  Bookending to Add Structure and Meaning to Your Course

January 27, 2011

eCoaching Tip 85 Using  Bookending to Add Structure and Meaning to Your Course

Imagining Your Course

How do you imagine your course? As a series of topics or problems? As a set of concepts or ideas? As a time of soul-searching and thinking about classical ideas? This tip suggests a way of bookending — or packaging — your course so that learners benefit from a meaningful and useful knowledge structure.

A previous tip (Tip 78 Content Framing and Case Studies) encouraged creating a single graphic that captures the framework or “problem space” created by your course.  One of our Fall 2010 webinars, Beyond the Paper, encouraged thinking beyond the traditional research paper to other types of media and formats, including creating a product for one’s learning and life portfolio. Other tips (#25, #65) have encouraged discussion wraps and course wraps as an aid to processing and “setting” knowledge into a structure.

Bookending a course extends the idea of a discussion or course wrap to packaging and structuring the entire course so that it is feels “whole” with a beginning, an ending, as   one “growth” event with a satisfying set of concepts and competencies.

 What is Bookending?

What is bookending and how can you use this in designing your course?

First of all, the term bookending is used in many writing professions, such as screenwriting, storytelling, essay writing, and now may be moving into blogging circles.  In fact, bookending is often a recommended strategy to novice screenwriters as a way to  “package” the film experience (Dyer, 2010). Bookending, used as a storytelling strategy, often helps viewers feel satisfied because they feel as if they experienced a whole something, such as a meaningful and significant life experience of someone, or a whole episode, or simply a good story with a beginning, middle and end.

How do writers do bookending? Writers bookend their stories by placing an interesting anecdote or scenario in their initial scene and then wrapping up the story with a resolution of that scenario or echoes of that anecdote. An example of the opening bookend from the popular 2009 film, Julie and Julia, are the early scenes when both Julia Childs and Julie Powell are struggling with what to do with their lives.  Julia’s statement captures the opening problem statement for the story when she states, “But what am I going to do?” Then the writers’ closing bookend is the scene that shows Powell and her husband visiting Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian Institution and Julia Childs in the same kitchen receiving a first print of her cookbook and celebrating the event with her husband. In between these two scenes is the story of how Julia Child’s search for her life in the cooking profession parallels Julie Powell’s challenge as she blogs about cooking her way through all the recipes in Child’s first book,Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The power of the opening and closing bookend provides a gentle and memorable wrap to the story of how two women found a meaningful purpose for their creative talents. If you haven’t seen it or would like a quick reminder look, here is a 2.5 minute previewof movie.

 Examples of “Bookending” Your Course

How might you apply bookending to your course? First of all you can build on two elements that you already have in place: the customized course projectand your closing events.  All you need is the initial problem scenario or sets of cases for launching the course that are convergent with the learning outcomes. With that simple addition you can “bookend” your course.

Let’ s use an example. In a course on managing a small company, your initial problem scenario might be a company that desperately needs to update its product line to improve its financial position. Or the company’s challenge might be to diversify its sales channels.

Some of the learning outcomes from this course probably include finances, sales and marketing principles, human resources, and strategies for updating or launching new products. For an opening “bookend” the instructor can provide one, two, or possibly three case studies about different size and product companies and discuss possibilities and strategies for dealing with the challenges. Students, who could work In early pairs on this, record some of their observations and possible strategies, creating a record that you and the students can refer and return to over time to see which strategies may have been a good idea. Some capstone business courses use management simulation software to see the results of some of their decision-making over the course. The closing bookend focuses on elements of those initial challenges and how they are addressed and handled in the readings and in course projects.

Let’s think about an example for an undergraduate course, such as history. We know that some of the key learning outcomes of a history major are assembling evidence and then interpreting it (Glenn, 2010). A history course is particularly prone to being designed as a sequence of topics. (I never made it past WWI in all my courses, as the instructors wanted to start at the beginning of time.) Turning a history course into a scenario-based analysis of issues, people, and ideas requires that learners develop skills such as finding supporting or conflicting data, critical thinking and an understanding of widely different perspectives.  Other courses such as leadership courses can similarly use scenarios of leadership challenges, and learning about oneself as a leader.

Closing course events that generally include sharing, presentations, and finalizing projects, are opportunities to look at a learner’s growth over time. Phil Dyer who writes a blog on screenwriting, notes that it’s “a good idea to show how much your protagonist has grown by the end of the story by writing a bookend scene at the end of the script that demonstrates that she has overcome her internal flaw.”  He notes that even if the protagonist has not overcome her internal flaw, the bookend scene can capture how far she may have come. In a similar way, since all learners progress on a path of their own learning as supported by Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, the amount of growth, change, and thinking can indicate to students how far they have come during the course.

So the course wrap itself serves as the “finishing bookend” to the course experience.


Of all the variables impacting learner intellectual growth, course design is close to the top of the list. It is not too late this term to think about challenging your students with cases and scenarios in the beginning section of your course.  Try bookending and see how it can engage you and your students in creating “growth experiences” in your learners.

Interesting Other Use of the Bookending Practice

In these days of almost constant interruptions, another use of the term “bookending” has emerged. If you google the term, you will find examples of bookending as a tool for staying on task by alerting a supportive friend when you begin and stop working on a project. It is similar to the buddy system for fitness programs. There is even a sitededicated to bookending support for writers. For example, if you have a task, such as reviewing course posts and commenting on how your students are doing, but find it is hard to stay focused, you send a note to this site and say basically, “I am starting now, and I hope to complete this task within an hour, or so.” Then when you finish, you send a note that you are in fact, done. If you are not done, you send a note saying what you did get done.

Other suggestions include finding a friend or colleague that you can tweet to at the beginning and end of a task. This may be a helpful technique for you or your students. I am a little dubious about it, but may be useful in getting to know more about our productivity challenges.

As always, really enjoy hearing from you all.  Call or write regarding this tip, past or future ones.


Dyer, Phil.Screenwriting Mistake #29: No bookend scenes. Doctor My Script Blog.  Retrieved January 19, 2011 from

E-Coaching Tip 78. (2010, Summer) Tip 78 Content Framing and Case Studies: Design Strategies for Summer Intensive Courses. (Not on the web site yet, but should be in your mailboxes. Email me if you can’t find it.)

E-Coaching Tip 65 (2009, Spring) Best Practices for Wrapping Up Courses. Retrieved January 19, 2011 from

E-Coaching Tip 25 (2006, Fall) Discussion Wraps — A Useful “Cognitive Pattern” or “Collection of Discrete Thought Threads?”Retrieved January 19, 2011 from

Glenn, D. (2010). Cook up a science course, and students will devour the lessons. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learningenvironments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.  Retrieved January 19, 2011 from

Lombardi, M. M. (2007). Authentic learning for the 21st Century: An overview. Retrieved January 19, 201 from  Subscription may be needed at this site.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher