The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is well-respected in the homeschooling community, and their resources are often coveted at curriculum fairs and conventions. After reviewing the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level B [FIX-1 & 2], including A Word Write Now and Portable Walls, I understand why.
In this package is:
Teaching Writing Structure and Style with a Premium Subscription to additional audio/visual and printable content. This is basically ‘how to teach writing’ for homeschooling parents. It is a twelve DVD seminar that comes in a nice DVD storage case. DVDs 1 through 9 focus on teaching parents how to teach their kids with IEW’s methods, covering these topics:
- Note Making and Outlines
- Writing from Notes
- Retelling Narrative Stories
- Summarizing a Reference
- Writing from Pictures
- Summarizing Multiple References
- Inventive Writing
- Formal Essay Models
- Formal Critique
- Writing with Literature
- Stylistic Techniques
- Appendices (helpful articles about writing and teaching writing).
DVDs 10 through 12 are of Andrew Pudewa demonstrating these methods with children at four different learning levels. It also includes a 3-ring binder that serves as a step-by-step guide covering the material in the TWSS workshops. The premium subscriptions offers 1 year of access to lectures, audio, and printables.
The Student Writing Intensive (we reviewed Level B) is just what it sounds like. The first disk in the 4 DVD set explains exactly how to use the program, and the rest contain the demonstration lessons for grade levels 6-8. A Student Notebook with pre-labeled dividers is provided as well.
Two Fix-It! Grammar levels are also included (we reviewed 1 & 2) which is two Teacher’s Editions with codes for e-copies of the student books. In just a few minutes a day, students can learn grammar by correcting grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors in a short paragraph. They are encouraged to keep going every day, because each one of those paragraphs tells part of a larger story. In Levels 1 & 2 the story is The Nose Tree.
Review and Recommendations:
Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package is a full feature writing and grammar program. No literacy stone is left unturned, and parents receive as much instruction as the students.
I began with the Teaching Writing Structure and Style seminar. It was easy for me to pop them into the desktop we have in the kitchen and watch them while washing dishes or making dinner (and lunch, and breakfast). I kept the Seminar and Practicum Notebook handy in case I needed to jot something down, and I was about halfway through before I started working with the kids on the Student Writing Intensive. This workshop, taught by Andrew Pudewa to a group of parents, covers everything you need to know to use this curriculum successfully with your kids. He leads the parents through the topics and methods your student will be using, and if you are at all insecure or feeling inadequate to teach writing, take the time to do the exercises along ‘with the class’.
Some teacher's editions and helps have 'scripted' instruction, but TWSS (the seminar and seminar notebook), although very detailed in what to do when, does not provide a script for the parents to read to their kids. This program is for parents who want to be involved in their child's writing instruction.
However, once everyone has the hang of it, children can work independently with the parent checking in on their progress and helping them evaluation their writing.
In preparation to use the Student Writing Intensive, I watched the overview DVD, which is also a workshop about how to use and teach the course. The instructions include how to put the student notebook together and the purpose of each section, so Kenny put his notebook together and we talked about what we wanted to get out of the course.
Kenny loves to tell stories, but he has little patience for writing long paragraphs or summarizing material he has read. Our hope was to conquer some of his reluctance to write and work on strategies for producing effective summaries of fiction and nonfiction works.
We are project/research-based homeschoolers, which means instead of using worksheets and question/answer quizzes, my kids write research papers and essays about topics in subject areas like history and science. Emma sometimes has trouble with these research papers, because it is difficult to figure out how to rewrite was someone else has already written who actually knows what they are talking about. When she found out that the Student Writing Intensive included a system for quickly and easily outlining, retelling, and summarizing, she wanted on board too, and started watching the lessons with us and practicing the methods Mr. Pudewa taught.
If the only thing my kids learned from the Student Writing Intensive was how to do a keyword outline, I’d be happy, because it has made such a difference in how they approach their writing assignments. But I’m glad to say they have learned much more than that, and with each lesson, their writing confidence grows. They found they can quickly summarize anything they read by following a few simple steps, and they prove it to themselves every day with increasingly complex passages.
Level B is described as being for grades 6-8, and this material can adjust up and down fairly easily to accommodate multiple students at different skill levels. With Kenny being at a 6th-sh grade composition level, and Emma at a Junior level, both were able to benefit from doing the same exercises, each working through their own particular writing issues.
Mr. Pudewa also shows kids how to make their sentences more interesting with ‘-ly dress ups’ (adverbs), who-which clauses, stronger verbs, quality adjectives., and how to avoid ‘banned’ words - which are just a list of boring verbs and general adjectives.
This is where A Word Write Now comes in handy. It’s a unique take on the traditional thesaurus, and is especially useful for those times when a student doesn’t have a particular word in mind (and therefore would not find a regular thesaurus helpful). All a student needs to do is make some sort of association - do they need a word for an emotion, a character trait, a color, texture, or movement? They’ll find the words arranged thematically, and we have found A Word Write Now to be a tremendous vocabulary builder.
Fix-It! Grammar was unbelievably simple to use. Kenny was stunned that all he had to do was find the errors, correct them. . . and he was done for the day. He reads enough to have an 'eye' for incorrect sentence structure and punctuation, especially if he reads the sentence out loud. His interest was captured once he realized each paragraph was a piece of the main story, and since he knows 1) grammar practice will be quick and relatively painless 2) he’ll get another piece of The Nose Tree puzzle, we’re moving forward at a brisk pace.
Now, imagine if you had several posters summarizing the outlines and major points of each lesson in the Student Writing Intensive, but you didn’t have the wall space for them. Portable Walls fills that desire to have handy references for your writing assignments. It's a very sturdy glossy folder, and Kenny keeps it tucked in his Student Notebook for quick reference.
We’ve enjoyed this course thoroughly, and appreciate all the effort that went into creating such a comprehensive but enjoyable writing and grammar curriculum for parents and students. We have started choosing some of our own samples for outlining and summarizing, and we are looking forward to the Inventive Writing unit. To homeschoolers looking for help teaching composition, or needing a grammar and writing curriculum, I can now personally recommend resources from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).
I’m a reader and a writer, and one of the things my friends tease me about is reading so many books about writing books. I’ve never felt inadequate to teach my kids composition, but it’s good to take a refresher course and see some other methods and perspectives on teaching writing. It’s always been easy for me to summarize a paragraph, or even a book, but it’s not something that is easy to teach to someone else. The keyword outline helped my kids turn a corner in writing their research papers. It doesn’t take them nearly as long as it used to because they have this tool which smooths out the process of choosing keywords and then reconstructing the information in their own words and in an order that makes sense to them. I'm very glad I've finally been able to try this resource from the Institute for Excellence in Writing and happy to say I learned some new techniques right alongside my kids.
I don't have any gripes with this program. Regardless whether or not a child wants to pursue a vocation that involves lots of writing, the Student Writing Intensive and FixIt! Grammar provides an excellent foundation as well as confidence, which is key.
One of the things I appreciated most about Mr. Pudewa's instruction was how to NOT correct your child's writing. You can put away the red pen and use more positive methods to guide their writing progress.