Thursday, October 9, 2014

Essay Rock Star by Fortuigence

Most educators recognize that the ability to write a well-crafted essay is an important skill for high school students to learn. So it stands to reason that students should be taught that skill, but for many of us that are teaching our own children, we aren't entirely sure how to teach it. Fortuigence offers the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course to help students master the skills without putting the pressure on the parent teacher. We had the opportunity to review this homeschool writing program over the past couple of months.
Fortuigence Review
Fortuigence was founded by Lily Iatridis, a veteran classroom teacher who wanted to continue teaching while spending time with her own family, and wanted to offer students lots of one-on-one time and support in mastering writing skills. The courses focus on skills mastery, so students work at their own pace, and parents can learn alongside their students.

The Essay Rock Star course is designed to be one semester (half credit for high school), and consists of four short courses. The short courses can each be taken individually as well. Students can work at their own pace, however, and a trained teacher reviews and critiques the work at every step. The lessons are online, so the student reads the material, watches the video and can listen to the audio at their convenience. There are also links to resource material. The teachers reviews all the student work and give individual feedback, and also provide suggestions for improvement. As the student's work shows that they've mastered each step along the way, they can move on to the next lesson.
Each of the short courses uses a five-step writing process:
  • Brainstorming
  • Organizing
  • Free Writing
  • Revision
  • Editing
The four short courses are as follows:
  • Personal Statement - the essay often requested during college applications, and one that many students find difficult because it requires them to write about themselves. The course teaches this type of essay and provides the student with a template to use when they do their college application.
  • Persuasive Essay - an essay commonly requested as part of college entrance exams. Students may struggle with this type when they fail to take a firm position on the topic. The course teaches how to recognize and respond to a persuasive essay prompt.
  • Textual Analysis - this type of essay is a review of another's work in an attempt to determine the purpose of the work and if the author achieved it. It's often required in upper high school levels, and is part of most college level work. 
  • Expository Essay - an essay the develops an explanation or "how-to" on a topic.
Fortuigence Review

How did we use it? We received the Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course for Landon, who is in tenth grade. I chose the Expository Essay for him because it is probably the most basic essay form, and the writing skills would apply to other forms as well. Writing is not a favorite subject or pastime for him, so his experience was somewhat limited. 

After getting the account set up (which was actually very easy!), the first thing he had to do was submit a pre-assessment - a sample of recent writing - so the instructor would be able to see what skills he already had and what might be most important for him to work on. Landon submitted a short essay he'd just been assigned on the Code of Hammurabi. It was really an opinion piece, but served the purpose! The next task would be to find a topic on which to write the Expository Essay for the course. This proved harder than one might think, because we wanted to use one of the writing assignments suggested for his World History course, and he had trouble finding one that he felt he could write about and also lent itself well to the Expository Essay style. In the end, he wound up going with another essay that has an opinion aspect to it - a sort of character study of Joseph from the Old Testament.

For each lesson, the material is presented in a short video, and in both audio and print. The audio is the same as the text on the page, but the video is different. I think this is a great approach for students who may have different learning styles and need to hear or see the information as well as read it.

Landon says it generally took him around 10 minutes to watch the video and simply read through the lesson. There are links to examples, a grading rubric, and other helps. The five-step writing process is broken down into seven lessons, with assignments for each. Because each step of the writing process is an assignment in itself that must be approved by the Fortuigence instructor before Landon could move on, he had to really learn how to do each of the steps and couldn't take a shortcut. For instance, he didn't see for himself the need for writing down any of his ideas during the brainstorming stage or for making an outline. Left to himself, he probably would have "filed" his brainstormed ideas in his head, then gone straight to writing without doing an outline to make sure he had his thoughts well-organized. (He might not admit that he would shortcut that way, but I've been his mom and teacher for enough years that I have a good sense of how he operates!) Doing a mind-map was something completely new to him, but certainly did get him to visually record and organize what he wanted to write about.
The instructor gives feedback on each assignment, then gives the go-ahead to start the next lesson. The feedback was concise, but encouraging and positive, and was accompanied by a reminder or suggestion of what to keep in mind as he worked on the next assignment. For instance, after submitting his outline and having it approved, he could get started on a first draft using free writing. His instructor, Ms. I., reminded him to include some background on Joseph as an introduction, and that he should assume that not all his readers would be familiar with the story.

Landon is only about halfway through the course, but will definitely be finishing, and I appreciate that he is being encouraged to take his time and think through his work before just rattling off a couple of paragraphs and calling it good enough. 

What we liked best:
  • clear, concise lessons and assignments. It didn't take a huge chunk of time to learn the purpose of each writing step and how to do it. 
  • examples of student work given to help give an idea of expectations
  • having the entire essay-writing process broken down into steps without shortcuts kept my student accountable to do all the work and not skip ahead.
  • encouraging and friendly tone of the instructor's feedback and all communications
  • the same instructor works with the student all through the course.

What I need to mention:
  • I had some trouble navigating the website - I figured out that from the Classroom page I couldn't get directly to any other page on the site, but had to go to the Home page first. This was pretty minor, once I figured it out!

Our bottom line:  Landon definitely falls into the category of reluctant writer, and having someone with real writing and teaching credentials (which he knows I don't have!) tell him he needs to do each step and take his time learning writing skills thoroughly is so helpful. He's got good ideas and things to say, so I want him to properly learn the tools to express himself well. He hasn't reached the point (yet) where he likes writing, but he realizes that it's an essential skill, and does the Essay Rock Star assignments without complaint and gives it a good effort. For this homeschool mom, that's what I'm looking for, and I'm glad he is working on this course and look forward to the final product when he completes the course.
Fortuigence Review

Would your student like to become an Essay Rock Star? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
Check out the additional resources offered at Fortuigence, which include TopTeach (a course for parents to help develop their kids' writing skills) and End Blank Page Terror Forever (a 50-page eBook with pre-writing tips, graphic organizers, and more). These two resources are currently offered for free.
Fortuigence Review
Fortuigence Review

Pricing: The Essay Rock Star Expository Essay Writing Course is available for $57. The entire Essay Rock Star, which includes all four of the short courses and is worth 0.50 high school credits, is available for $197.

Recommended Ages: Suitable for students aged 12-18, or in middle school or high school grades.

You can follow Fortuigence on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+ (also follow Lily Iatridis), on Pinterest, and on YouTube.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members reviewed all four short courses, so be sure to check out all of them! 
Click to read Crew Reviews
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Lily Iatridis said...


Thank you so much for your review! I did so enjoy Landon's mind maps, and I look forward to finishing up the course with him.

Have a wonderful day,

Lily :)

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