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Do you have goals for your homeschooled kids? I have many, and among those, I want my kids to be great writers, to communicate effectively, and to retain information that they learn. When I started homeschooling, we tried many different writing programs, but it felt like we were spinning our wheels. Writing time always included tears, and by the end of our school year we were no closer to our goals than we were when we started.
I hemmed and hawed over the Institute for Excellence in Writing's programs for years. My oldest has struggled with dyslexia, and overcame many of her struggles to become a book lover and an excellent reader. My second child is a force to be reckoned with and hates anything and everything school-related. With her, there are a good number of subjects we cover that don't “feel” like school, and I have to use my mommy ninja skills to get her to enjoy learning without realizing it. Even though we do our best to make school interesting, there are quite a few subjects that just have to get done, and writing and spelling have always fallen into that category.
When I finally decided to try Institute for Excellence in Writing, I contacted them and asked for a copy of their Student Writing Intensive to review. They graciously provided one, and I took a FULL SCHOOL YEAR to use the product and write this review, because I wanted to make sure I could review it with confidence and share a full experience with the program.
What is it:
Institute for Excellence in Writing's Teaching Writing and Student Writing Intensive are very comprehensive instruction courses that first teaches the parents HOW to teach writing, then teaches the students how to write with additional parental instruction, respectively.
How it works:
- The teacher watches an overview video with a workbook to understand the concepts that the students will be learning.
- The students watch an instruction video and completes exercises to learn how to write.
What we thought:
This course is truly excellent. We are in our eighth year of homeschooling, and I have tried unsuccessfully to teach writing for many years. Using Writing Strands and a half-dozen other writing programs had left us frustrated with the results – and I could tell, with every program we would try, that my kids were frustrated with my teaching.
At $249, this program's cost initially intimidated me. But after I completed my review of Level A, I went on to buy several IEW products on my own. I see the value that comes with the investment. Plus, I have five kids, and when my younger three are old enough they will be definitely be doing Level A. I plan to keep this and re-use it; it's a one-time cost since the products aren't consumable.
Student Writing Intensive not only has taught my kids how to write effectively, but also how to identify and parse out the critical information included in everything they read – newspaper articles, fiction, nonfiction, the Bible, literally EVERYTHING! That one skill has translated into better reading comprehension, better reading in general, and, of course, better writing.
My oldest daughter (12 years old), is a lot like me – loves to follow directions, loves to plan, and is far more business-minded than creative. For her, Student Writing Intensive was a relief because it allows the student to learn to write without having to fill pages with words, write creatively before they are ready, or come up with topics. Essentially, the student learns to write using material that's already written.
My second daughter (9 years 0ld) is very creative, but hates schoolwork (as I previously mentioned). For her, she really perked up when she got to get creative with the assignments, which doesn't happen immediately with Student Writing Intensive. However, the thorough writing instruction formed a foundation that allowed her to write creatively and write WELL. There was a huge change in her writing after she completed Student Writing Intensive. I do want to note that with this one, who is not a fan of schoolwork, I did most of the writing with her. She seemed a bit overwhelmed at first, so we did a few different things to help her through it. Sometimes we alternate – I'll write a line, then she'll write a line, and so on. Sometimes she dictates to me and I do the writing for her, and sometimes I have her do it all. My goal was to keep her from getting overwhelmed, and to help her find some enjoyment in each assignment.
10 things you need to know:
- You can easily combine multiple ages, but I do recommend sticking to the ages listed for each program. IEW knows what they're talking about, and I felt very certain that although I was tempted to include my middle kids with the bigger girls, they just weren't ready yet.
- Feel free to go slowly with the program, help your kids as much as they need, and go back and re-watch anything that doesn't sink in.
- I really feel like the Teaching Writing and Student Writing combo is the best way to go, but if the price is too steep you could also try just the Student Writing Intensive (which comes with an overview DVD), or Teaching Writing with the DVDs only plus a less-expensive writing unit for grades 3-5. You have options!
- The beginning of this course is not for creative writing, necessarily, although my kids have absolutely used what they've learned to write creatively. It's writing instruction, which I really came to appreciate more and more as we got through the program. I feel like my kids have the tools to write anything they wish now.
- Student Writing Intensive is NOT tedious – but it is work! We spent about an hour per week, and I felt like that was just right. My kids weren't always thrilled to do it, but they didn't mind it (for MY homeschool kids, that's a victory!). The program is interesting, the DVDs are interesting, the writing is interesting, and the method is effective.
- This course is taught by Andrew Pudewa, and the students learn very effectively from watching him on video, but I found that it is absolutely necessary for the teacher to understand the concepts before the student moves forward.
- When you open the course materials, you might feel overwhelmed (I did!). They have a “read this first” sheet that will help you figure out what goes where and when to do each part. If you jump right in to the student lessons, you might feel like the program doesn't make sense, but if you watch the teacher's video and follow the directions laid out for you, you'll be fine! I actually felt a bit lost and called their customer service line, and they were really friendly and helpful. They helped me to understand where I was overcomplicating things and we were able to jump in with no problems.
- The lesson plan is GOLD. A friend of mine told me she tried to use the program without this lesson plan, and had a much harder time. I love that I can open it, prepare, and then get started.
- I highly, highly recommend the additional supplement packet with PDF downloads available on the website. This premium subscription is a ton of value packed into PDF downloads – posters, source materials, and more. We relied heavily on our subscription over this past year!
- Although I'm sure a good writer could tear my writing apart, I have noticed big changes in my writing since we started IEW's program. This has been an unexpected but very welcome bonus!
P.S. Halfway through the school year, I also purchased Phonetic Zoo from IEW, and I'll post a review of that in the next few weeks!