Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing

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I think I am in good company when I tell you that teaching writing causes me more anxiety than other areas. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to review The Institute for Excellence in Writing, I was overjoyed. Here are the products I received for review:

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retail price: $109

Andrew Pudewa is the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing and the presenter in the videos. With a background in violin, he compares learning to write to learning to play an instrument. He encourages many aspects of the Suzuki Method like the one point lesson. His extensive teaching career spans more than four decades! 

Mr. Pudewa states that IEW is, "skills based and not product based." In other words, we as teachers should be more concerned with getting our students to develop writing skills and not be overly concerned with the content, at least at the beginning. Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is for you, the teacher or homeschool parent. You could think of it as the best college course you never took. While this follows the same course as the Student Writing Intensive, it is geared towards teaching you how to teach writing. Throughout the program, Mr. Pudewa gives examples of issues that may arise during your teaching. The Student Writing Intensive is a program written for the student. There are 3 levels: Group A for grades 3-5, Group B for grades 6-8 and Group C for grades 9-12.

I have to be honest, as excited as I was to receive my box of materials, I was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of DVDs. I thought it would take me a year to get through it all. My fears were quickly put to rest as I realized that each DVD wasn't crammed with hours of material. Each DVD contains only a unit or 2 and they are very enjoyable to watch. I am a self-proclaimed nerd and I love feeling like I am sitting in class with Mr. Pudewa. 

My review process began with me watching each DVD in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD series. I divided this up into about a week's worth of evenings. The videos are easy to watch and Mr. Pudewa is engaging and funny. There are many examples to illustrate each step. After I had watched a few units, I think 3, I began with Unit 1 of the Student Writing Intensive. I just wanted to have a real understanding of the program before beginning with my 10 year old. He is your typical boy who claims to have a giant dislike for anything involving writing. 

Unit 1 begins with working on a key word outline. My 10 year old has never done and outline before, so this was a new experience. I had him write an outline using the passage "Booklice".  I was pleased to see that he mastered this skill quickly. It is amazing to me to see writing instruction begin with this step. We often hear that good writing will develop with exposure to good literature but it is never backed up with how one relates to the other. IEW made this connection clear to me.  In Unit 2, my son used his outline to write a summary. After a little bit of resistance, mostly due to lack of confidence, he was able to produce a well-written summary.

Unit 3 helps children identify the sequence of a narrative story. This is great time to review (or introduce) story elements such as plot, setting, characters, etc. My son enjoyed this unit but it was nothing compared to his love of the next unit.

Unit 4 introduces the topic sentence by helping children create a summary of a passage from a reference book. We have a subscription to ZooBooks and this unit was the perfect time to pull some information from them. Unit 6 covers the same skills as Unit 4, except the student uses TWO sources. 

Unit 5 is probably a favorite for most children, writing from pictures. After working through the examples in the student book, we also looked at pictures from a Harris Burdick book. All the examples in the curriculum have 3 pictures but is fun to look at one picture and stretch the imagination. As the teacher guide says, if there is only on picture, the student has to imagine 2 other pictures to imagine a sequence.

Unit 7 is perhaps the one I dreaded the most because it is (cue horror music) creative writing! Now, I don't mind creative writing, but I wondered if the past few weeks of lessons were going to be enough to prepare my son for this next step. To my amazement, the "think three themes" approach was just enough to take the edge off and make this a surmountable skill. We have not finished the composition as of this review, but he is well on his way to building the skills and confidence for writing.

Unit 8 covers the structure for writing formal essays including research reports. I cannot wait to use these skills this coming year. The teacher guide states that this skill isn't necessary to teach this skill below grade 4 and even though my son is 10, I felt like it was a stretch to introduce it right now.

Unit 9 teaches skills used for book reports, reviews and critiques. We briefly discussed the video after we watched it. I think a great starting point would be to review a movie, which is what we did. 

IEW is a solid writing program. Every second I spend watching the videos was worth my time, ten-fold. I feel so much more confident to teach all 3 of my children how to really write. I must tell you that this program isn't meant to be used in the short amount of time that I used it. Ideally, you would work your way through it over the course of one school year for each level. I intend to start at the beginning again with my son and my 8 year old daughter. 

The binders come filled with all the papers and dividers. I was a little surprised to see that even though all materials were provided, the pages were not already in the appropriate places.

Also, I would love to see the videos available online.  There were several occasions, like being at gymnastics for 2 hours, where I would have loved to watch part of a lesson. I felt tied to my television and DVD player.

These two things could only improve on an already extraordinary curriculum. I would highly recommend IEW to anyone wishing to provide a solid foundation of writing skills.

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