Bookend Pedagogy

As I work with more and more schools in a coaching role, I am beginning to see specific trends emerge. Now, before I go any further, it goes without saying that I see fantastic examples of sound pedagogical practice and innovative strategies that are leading to improved learning outcomes.  However, my role, as the schools I partner with and I see it, isn’t to just spit out platitudes and tell them what they want to hear.  The most important aspect is to empower them to take a critical lens to their work through evidence and begin to think deeply about needed changes to practice.

In a previous post, I outlined what a typical coaching day with me looks like, as well as the most common areas where growth can be achieved based on many classroom visits.  Wells Elementary has been taking the feedback that I provide for over three years and recently asked me to create a session that focused on strategies for opening and closing lessons. I was excited about this opportunity as I was going to have the honor of meeting with all teachers by grade level and present newly created content. As I pondered over what I was going to call this presentation, the idea of bookend pedagogy popped in my mind.  I ran the title by my wife as she never hesitates to tell me how it is. She liked it, and off I went to create a new slide deck.

The more I think about it; I really see bookend pedagogy as a critical element of any successful lesson. How a lesson begins typically makes or breaks it in the eyes of a learner. A well-structured anticipatory set gets the ball rolling while a review or prior learning right after helps to ensure that the kids understand what was covered previously. The end provides valuable feedback to both the teacher and student to determine if the objective/target was met and that learning occurred. Without closure, it is difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate whether a specific lesson was a success. For my session with the Wells staff, I developed and then implemented a mini-lesson on personalized learning while ensuring that I included an anticipatory set, review of prior learning, direct instruction, and closure. 

In the past, I have written posts on all three of these elements, but a quick review never hurt anyone.  In addition, I will provide additional strategies and resources. The anticipatory set is used to prepare students for the lesson by setting the students’ minds for instruction. This is achieved by asking a question or making statements to pique interest, create mental images, review information, focus student attention, and initiate the learning process. Types of sets can include the following:

  • Short video clips
  • Relevant writing prompts
  • Riddles
  • Personal stories or real-world scenarios
  • Current events
  • Picture prompts
  • Props
  • Open-ended questions

For more context, check out this video.


Just because something was presented in class, the assumption cannot be made that students actually learned it, which makes reviewing prior learning critical.  Research in cognitive science has shown that eliciting prior understandings is a necessary component of the learning process. Research also has demonstrated that expert learners are much more adept at the transfer of learning than novices and that practice in the transfer of learning is required in good instruction (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000). Check out this article from TeachThought, which outlines 27 strategies to review prior learning.

How do you know if the class got it at the end of a lesson? Learning increases when lessons are concluded in a manner that helps students organize and remember the point of the lesson. Closure draws attention to the end of the lesson, helps students organize their learning, reinforces the significant aspects of the lesson, allows students to practice what is learned, and provides an opportunity for feedback and review. Time must be set aside for closure, and efforts should be made to include it in lesson plans. A straightforward way to do this is to provide three scaffolded questions (easy, moderate, challenging) as a means of formative assessment. Below are some general closure examples:

  • Explain one thing you learned today.
  • What was the most challenging concept, and why?
  • Identify the most significant learning from the lesson and explain why.
  • What do you need to do to develop a deeper understanding?
  • How did the lesson impact your understanding?
  • How would you summarize what you learned for someone who wasn’t here?
  • What was one thing you were unsure of?
  • Discuss an “aha” you had and how it connects to the learning target/objective.

The above only represent some ideas on how to close a lesson.  As is the case with anticipatory sets, reviews of prior learning, and closure, there is no one right way.  Many tools can help facilitate all of the above. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Whiteboards (no tech)
  • Paper exit tickets
  • Plickers (best tech option)
  • Mentimeter
  • Pear Deck
  • Nearpod
  • Google Forms
  • Kahoot
  • Quizizz
  • Quiz Whizzer
  • Gimkit
  • GoSoapBox
  • Padlet
  • Linoit
  • AnswerGarden
  • Flipgrid

It should be noted that bookend pedagogy might not be necessary during lessons that involve high-agency strategies such as station rotation, choice boards, playlists, or those involving extended inquiry and project-based learning. However, with any of these pedagogical techniques, there should be an opening and an end at some point, so always keep bookend pedagogy in mind.