Writing is an area in our house that often needs some work. I have a fourth grader who is hearing impaired and a second grader who is a slow-to-blossom reader. Even though my educational background is actually in teaching writing, I will confess that the idea of working with young children who were not blossoming at the rate that I expected was a little daunting for me. So, when I received the opportunity to do a review for Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), I was very excited at the possibility of having some help with our writing instruction.
We were selected to review the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A [FIX-1 & 2]. This package is perfect for the child who is doing 3rd-5th grade level work, and I knew it would be a perfect fit for my ten year old. Even though I knew it would be a little above the natural skills of my 8 year old, I decided to also use it with her with a little scaffolding from me.
The Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level A [Fix-1 & 2] includes several components. These are the new edition of the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Teacher Seminar along with all associated DVDS and the practicum workbook, Student Writing Intensive Level A along with the student notebook and lesson plans, Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree, Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood, A Word Write Now, and Portable Walls. Because this is a large package with many pieces to it, I’m going to take some time to examine each portion separately.
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (Second Edition) is the brand-new, revised video course for teachers and parents that explains how to teach the IEW system of writing. It includes 12 DVDs, an over 200 page practicum workbook, and bonus backline masters, writing source packets, and about 30 audio sessions with Andrew Pudewa, access to additional streaming video student practicums, and free access to monthly training webinars.
This is a huge, rich resource as Pudewa walks you through teaching each of the nine units and the related structural models that make up the IEW system. He also spends significant time explaining and sharing how to teach the stylistic techniques required in students’ writing, and he provides practice and homework for teachers. There is an option, when completing all the practicum homework to become IEW certified, so if that’s one of your goals, you’ll want to check out those options as well. The final three DVDs of the course are classroom sessions of putting these ideas into action with different age groups, and they will give you a real feel for what the lessons look like put into practice with the age group with which you teach.
Going through this course is helping me to understand how to put the system into practice and also listening to Pudewa’s advice is making me a better all around teacher. For example, in the section of the DVD on stylistic techniques he explains that you should go at a pace of EZ+1. He reminds you constantly that it’s far better to go to slow than too fast. He reminds you that if your student is frustrated or says it’s too hard, then you’ve taught too much too fast. This is principle that I can take and apply to all the subject areas that we do together and become a better teacher of all subjects.
I’ve also found the audio lectures that are included as bonus material in the premium subscription to be extremely valuable. I’ve already written two blog posts based on things I’ve learned just from the “Principles of Motivation and Skills Development” lecture. You can read them here and here. I’ve also been seriously challenged by the “Nurturing Competent Communicators,” and the “Spelling and the Brain” lectures to change some of the things that we’ve been doing in our home to set my children up for success along the way.
Once you’ve completed all the coursework in Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, you are equipped with everything you would need to create your own writing class from scratch, and you’re able to teach writing with confidence. It also gives you all the philosophy that underlies the system and helps you to be a better all around teacher. I plan on spending the summer going through the remainder of this program that I haven’t finished, soaking it in, and enjoying the audio lectures that I downloaded with the subscription.
Student Writing Intensive Level A
Some of us, even with the great teacher training that IEW provides, aren’t interested in crafting our own writing classes. That’s where the next product in the package comes in. Student Writing Intensive Level A is a 30 week course for your 3rd – 5th grader. There’s video teaching from Andrew Pudewa, a binder with tabs, lesson plans and copies of all the student handouts and checklists included for your child. Even though you are allowed to make copies for all your family members taking the course, after weighing the cost of copies, binder, etc., I decided to purchase a second binder for my second student and have both my older children work on this course together.
The way the course works is that you have video instruction from Andrew Pudewa. Then, you have assignments and reinforcement activities detailed for you in the handout packets. You have all the copies and everything that you need to implement the lessons. All daily activities are planned out and broken into 30 weeks of lesson plans, although you have the flexibility to substitute assignments as you see fit. This course covers several, but not all of the units that are a part of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. It goes at a slower pace and adds dress-ups slowly, making it perfect for upper elementary age learners.
My children have both been using this course for several weeks, and I must say that they are both becoming quite the experts at keyword outlines and creating paragraphs from keyword outlines. They love “Mr. P’s” instructional DVD, and even more than that, I love the increasing confidence with which they are approaching paragraph writing. Neither child had ever really written a complete paragraph before starting this course, and thanks to the course, they have now completed several paragraphs.
This is a curriculum that we are finding fun and helpful enough that I intend on continuing in the fall. In fact, we’re finding it so enjoyable that I never hear any complaints and I never see any tears at writing time. In our house, that’s a big deal. In fact, it’s a big enough deal that I’ve already asked Hubby if we can just plan on budgeting to continue with the IEW video courses for our homeschool writing time. We’ve found the backbone of our writing education.
Fix It! Grammar
The next component that we received in the deluxe package was two years of Fix It! Grammar. The Deluxe Combo Teacher Student Writing Package Level A comes with the first two years of Grammar, The Nose Tree and Robin Hood. These books come with spiral bound teacher editions and downloadable student books. There are 33 weeks of assignments in The Nose Tree, and these weeks are divided into four days per week of grammar lessons.
A normal day of Fix It! Grammar looked like this in our house:
- Read sentence together.
- Look at word in bold. Determine whether we already knew word or needed to look up definition.
- Look up and write down definition on our definition list.
- Use our grammar cards (and any necessary teacher instruction) to search out corrections to make in the text and to mark parts of speech.
- Recopy corrected sentence into our notebooks.
The best part about Fix It! Grammar is that it tells a story as you go along through the grammar program. Each day, the children would get a new sentence in the story, and that really drove my story-driven girl to want to go to the table and do her grammar each day. We also all loved that it only takes 10-15 minutes to do grammar together. It was short, and sweet and we were able to get on with other things. Each day, your child is only fixing one sentence, and over time they’ll fix a lot of sentences, making this little daily practice one with a great eventual reward.
If you’re using the TWSS and the SWI above, some of the sentences help your child to learn how to use different stylistic techniques that they’re implementing in their writing courses. This makes Fix-It! Grammar the easy choice of “What grammar do I use?” if you’re using the IEW writing courses as their primary means of learning how to write.
I do have to tell you guys, in the interest of full disclosure, that we got off to the wrong start on this one with me being too pushy and overcorrecting, and generally making the children miserable. The teacher’s manual in Fix It! Grammar plainly tells you that if your children dread grammar you’re not doing it right. I went back and re-evaluated what I was doing and made the children into “word detectives” as we went through with their grammar cards to be their “detective kit,” and now they enjoy this once dreaded time of day.
The best reward of all for this program came this week as Firecracker was sitting with me at dinnertime one night discussing adjectives vs. verbs and constructing sentences using the word “wet” as different parts of speech so that I could see just how much he’s learned in a few weeks of one sentence a day grammar. Now I know it’s working for him.
A Word Write Now
Once you begin writing with the IEW system, it won’t be long before you begin to encounter the concepts of banned words, strong verbs, -ly adverbs and other “dress-ups” to make your writing fancier. That’s where A Word Write Now comes in. It is a thesaurus that is arranged by theme instead of alphabetically. There are three main sections to the arrangement of this book. They are:
- Character Traits: Words are arranged by character traits. For example, pages include traits such as anger, curiosity and pride. With each two page character trait spread, there are definitions, examples of literature, nouns, character nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. There are also spaces for additional words related to the trait as you find them.
- Words to Describe: These are lists of words for color, appearance, size, shape, etc.
- Words for Movement and the Senses: These are synonyms for feet, hands, speaking, hearing and all the other senses.
In addition, there’s an appendix that has some fun and helpful games to play, examples of transition words and prepositions, and examples of literary genres and devices. It’s a very helpful encapsulation of some ideas that students and adults may need to reference from time-to-time.
We’re really not to a place with Student Writing Intensive where we’ve pulled it out a lot yet, but this colorful and useful volume is going to be on my language arts reference shelf for years to come. Even this Momma finds herself pulled to look at the words and think through the lists of words to use from time to time.
One of the recommendations that Pudewa frequently makes is that you poster your walls with word lists, structural models and the other things that your children/students need to write. However, many of us may not have the space or the inclination to do so. That’s where Portable Walls comes in. With the portable walls, you have a nice folder that folds out. Both front and back of the trifold are completely filled with structural models, checklists, -ly adverbs, a list of prepositions and strong verbs.
This is the perfect thing for me to send off with my ten year old when he wants some quiet time to concentrate on his writing because it has everything he needs to be reminded of in one easy and durable place.
A Few Final Words
I had really always thought from the outside that the IEW system of writing was a little intimidating, and I didn’t understand why so many homeschoolers swore by it. Then, I received the opportunity to experience it and realize how flexible and easy it really is to implement. I also had the opportunity to see how gentle and relaxed Pudewa and the other writers/teachers for IEW are in their educational philosophy, and I fell in love with the curriculum and teacher training materials.
My children enjoy both the grammar and the writing intensive class. No one groans or moans. No one cries. They’re both happy to get in and do their work. They’re learning grammar. They’re becoming better writers. They remember what “Mr. P” says with fondness and have totally accepted his advice as an “expert” on making their writing better. “Mr. P” is a talented teacher.
I’m spending a little extra time this summer, as I have the time, to watch the Structure and Style Teacher DVDs and listen to the bonus audio resources as additional teacher training for myself because I’ve seen benefits from it in more than just teaching writing for me. I love that I have the DVDs and seminar workbook to refer back to as we go through the writing program. It helps me to refresh myself on what my goals are with the writing and work that we’re doing in the student writing intensive.
As for the Student Writing Intensive and Fix It! Grammar, those will be Firecracker and Rose’s writing and grammar programs for this school year. Writing is important to me, and I now that I have them started on the IEW pathway, I feel that we’ll continue with it all the way through high school. More than anything, I want to raise competent communicators, and IEW makes it easy to do so.