Friday, May 13, 2011

Institute for Excellence in Writing - Review

Growing up I never liked English class. Mainly, I didn't like grammar. I could write very well and loved to write stories as well as poetry. I always did well on research papers and any creative writing assignments we had. I did not understand the need of learning grammar.

I finally learned not to hate English when I became a senior in high school I had a wonderful teacher for AP English that taught me to love great literature. I had always been an avid reader, but great, classic literature had not been introduced to me. I loved the classics like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Catch 22, and 15 other classic books we read that year. At least, at that point I didn't totally despise everything related to English class!

My second year of teaching I was "thrown" in to teaching Middle School english/grammar at the Christian School I was teaching at. I did not want to teach English--really I wanted to teach anything BUT english, but I was qualified to teach all subjects and they needed an English teacher. And, anyone that has ever taught in a small Christian school knows that you teach what ever needs to be taught. I hated it! The curriculum they used taught the kids all about direct and indirect objects, participles, diagramming sentences and a million other things that even I don't remember. But, these kids did not know how to write a coherent paragraph with any style whatsoever. I ended the year very disheartened and determined that I would find a better way to teach English and to instill a love of writing and literature in to my students.

The next year came and we adopted our oldest son so I did not continue teaching. But, all those experiences stuck with me as my son grew, and we decided to homeschool. I knew that, when the time came, I was going to find a different way to teach him grammar and english. I wanted him to enjoy the English language, and be able to use it properly and with "style". I went to homeschool conventions and looked at all the different English programs out there and I didn't see anything that taught writing and grammar the way I thought he should learn it. So, for first and second grade I went with a grammar curriculum that was simple and I added my own creative writing assignments as well as classic literature read-alouds. At the convention at the end of second grade I walked by the Institute for Excellence in Writing booth and fell in love. However, there was no way I could afford the steep price tag. I planned on waiting a year and saving the money to buy what looked like a great program.

To my great surprise I was given the opportunity to review this exact program this year with the TOS Crew! God truly is amazing and his blessings are so wonderful and always in perfect time! I was beyond excited when I found out I was going to have the opportunity to review the "Teaching Writing: Structure and Style" (TWSS) as well as the "Student Writing Intensive-Level A" (SWI-A) I won't wait until the end of this review to tell you, this product is worth every penny of the $239 price tag.
Teacher/Student Combo

First, let me say that when the box arrived, last November, I was so impressed with the quality of the product, but a bit overwhelmed. There was so much material, and it all seemed so confusing. I sat it aside for a week or so until I had the time to really look at it--without constant interruption from the kids. When I did get a chance to really look at it I realized it was actually not near as confusing as it first appeared, and everything was laid out for me.

There are really two separate parts to this review. I will start with the TWSS. The TWSS is designed for you, the parent/teacher. It is 10 DVD's as well as a "Seminar and Practicum" Workbook. The first 6 DVD's are ANdrew Pudewa teaching you how to teach writing to your children/students. He covers all 9 of the units that are in all of SWI's (there are 3 levels for the student--A, B, and C). The parent/teacher is encouraged to watch the DVD's and work through the same activities your student will be doing in the SWI. You can do this one of two ways. You can watch it all before your kiddos start, or you can watch it as you go along-staying just a step ahead of them as you go. For me, I decided I wanted Paul to get started fairly quickly so I would just watch the DVD of the unit we were starting on a day or two before he watched his (which comes with the SWI). I will say that watching my videos and knowing what is coming for him really helped me be a better teacher. You can also watch the TWSS and use your own material from your child's history/science/literature studies and teach this all on your own, without the SWI-A. You can purchase just the TWSS and the workbook separately from the SWI for $169.

Now, the second part of the product is the SWI-A. This is the student's part of the program. With this you will receive a student binder with dividers for current work, finished work, structural models, stylistic techniques, and (my personal favorite) banned words. You will also receive a manilla envelope with all the lessons broken down for you and all the handouts you will need for your student. The SWI-A can be purchased separately from the TWSS for $99.

The SWI-A is geared for 3rd-5th graders. Paul is an advanced 3rd grader and it was a challenge for him. He works well in a more challenging situation so it was a good fit for him. Paul also already had a grasp of basic grammar as well as a love of writing. This program has helped him bring those two things together to start developing some writing with some style and "pizazz". The banned words have been one of our favorite parts of the program and Paul doesn't even use them in his speech much anymore. It is not unusual to here him say "I observed/discovered/examined..." instead of saying "I saw...". He will then look at me and say "strong verb" with a big grin on his face. To me, this just shows that he is really enjoying what he is learning in "school" and applying it to other areas of life--it doesn't get much better than that

The main part of the program is the 4 DVD's you will receive of Andrew teaching your student. In SWI A you will work on the following units:
Unit 1 and 2--Note-taking and Summarizing
Unit 3--Summarizing Narrative Stories
Unit 4--Summarizing References
Unit 7--Creative Writing

Notice in the chart below that different things are worked on in different levels of the SWI

IEW Comparative Chart

Also, note that if you have the TWSS then you can teach all these Units on your own--if you are brave enough to do so. The TWSS does a great job of teaching you how to teach writing. However, Paul really enjoyed being taught by someone different. Andrew Pudewa is a wonderful teacher. He adds humor into his teaching and simply portrays a love of writing that I can't get across to Paul. Paul also liked the fact that he was a man. I do think that you could effectively use the SWI-A without the TWSS, but it would be quite overwhelming. Having the TWSS helped me to get a better feel for the program, and when Paul had a question I knew how to help him.

The SWI's are typically 15-30 weeks. We will take the full 30 weeks to get through SWI-A (continuing it in to next school year). We have taken it slow on purpose, since Paul is at the young end of the target age. I want him to really benefit from this program, not just make it through it. After that we plan on using the "All Things Fun and Fascinating" theme based writing workbook to continue working on the skills worked on in SWI-A. We are also going to add in IEW's "Fix-It: Grammar and Editing Made easy with the Classics". There are several other ways you could continue using IEW after the SWI. They offer several theme-based writing workbooks, as well as continuation courses and advanced writing courses. You can go to their website to see all they have to offer. I would definitely suggest starting with the TWSS and SWI combo. I know $239 seems like a high price, but it is a great investment in your child's education. But, if you are low on cash you can choose either of the single products to start with.

In a nutshell, we truly love IEW. As I stated way back in the beginning of this review, I hated grammar, and never understood why it was needed or how it helped you be a better writer. This program helps the student learn to write while also teaching some of the basics of grammar, without overwhelming the student with too much grammar. It is not a grammar curriculum, and you will need to supplement with some type of grammar curriculum if your child does not already have a firm grasp on the parts of speech. For us, Paul has as much grammar as he needs at this time, and we can focus on using the grammar to write. Besides using "Fix-It" I will simply fill in any grammar "holes" as we run across them. In my opinion, being able to write a coherent paragraph is much more important than being able to diagram a sentence.

We also received the "portable wall", which you can purchase for only $7. It has been a great resource for Paul. He can quickly and easily find a synonym for "said", or an "'ly' adverb". He can also quickly see what his "dress-ups" need to be and when he progresses further in to the program there are helps for sentence openers, decorations, prepositions and more--all on a tri-fold 9x12 poster.


There is so much to this program I am sure I did not do it justice. If you would like to find out more please visit their website. There are various videos you can watch to learn more about all the great products they offer.

Also, be sure to check out the other reviews from the TOS Crew here.

And, if you have any more question for me, please leave a comment and I will answer it to the best of my ability.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for my honest opinion of the program. No other compensating was given for this review, and the above is my honest opinion.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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