Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @

Institute for Excellence in Writing is a well-known name in homeschooling circles, and has definitely earned their reputation for outstanding and effective curriculum. It was an honor to be able to review a generous package of their award-winning curriculum - the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level C with Fix-It! Grammar 1 and 2.

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Institute for Excellence in Writing believes that confident and effective communication skills are essential for students to learn, and produces materials designed to help teach those skills to students of all ages and abilities. The distinctive Structure & Style methods equip students to build written and oral communication skills, and improve critical thinking. It's an approach that develops confidence and creativity as the student learns nine structural models that help them in organizing their thoughts for any style of composition.

The Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level C with Fix-It! Grammar 1 and 2 sounds like there's a lot to it, and there is! Included in this package were all of the following resources:

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Let's take a look at each of the components and how we used them!

Teaching Writing: Structure & Style DVD Set and Seminar Workbook - As the parent/teacher, this is where you'll want to start. This is a set of twelve DVDS - nine are the TWSS seminar led by Andrew Pudewa, and three are student demo DVDs. The seminar presents, in detail, the entire TWSS method, starting with the basics of finding keywords and rewriting a paragraph, all the way to advanced creative writing and essays for high school students. This is so valuable and essential for the parent/teacher, no matter the age or grade or ability of your students. You will learn yourself how to do what you will ask of your students - find keywords, rewrite and retell information or stories, choose strong and expressive vocabulary, and effectively use varied sentence structures and literary devices. The instruction covers all nine structural models for writing, and many stylistic techniques. Over fourteen hours total viewing, but in my opinion it's never boring or tedious, because Mr Pudewa is such an engaging communicator! 

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With TWSS, we also received a Premium Subscription, which means one year's access to the streaming video and resources on the IEW website. The TWSS teacher training is included as streaming video, in its entirety, as are the sample student workshops. There are also monthly training webinars, audio MP3 downloads of some of Andrew Pudewa's most popular conference talks (I am definitely taking advantage of this feature, as I loved hearing him at CHAP a few years ago and wished that I had purchased recordings of all his sessions there!), and pdf downloads (I've made use of some of these already as well.). These resources are updated in July each year, so I am looking forward to seeing what will be new in just a few weeks!

A Seminar Workbook comes with the DVD set. This is the syllabus for the seminar, and contains charts, word lists, sample lesson plans, and many helps for implementing the materials. As I watched the DVDs, I could follow notes in the workbook, and there are very helpful samples of student work and FAQs all the way through, along with checklists and room for the teacher to actually do the work of writing! When my kids knew that I'd done it myself, they were more willing to listen to my suggestions or advice when they were stuck. The goals for each unit are given, the teaching procedure is outlined, and there are suggested adjustments for different grade levels and for ESL or Special Needs students.

If you're like me, you might be thinking something like, "No way do I have time to watch fourteen hours of this seminar before I can get my kids started on this!" Well, besides the good news that you will probably thoroughly enjoy the seminar, there's more good news - you don't have to watch all of it beforehand! You can watch them throughout your school year, if that works better for you. I do suggest watching at least the first one, and the sample Student Workshop DVD for the grade level you'll be teaching before your first session with your kids. The Student Workshop DVDs will help you get that first lesson off to a great start!

Student Writing Intensive DVDs and Student Notebook - The Student Writing Intensive DVD set is available for elementary grades, middle grades, and high school grades. We received the set for high schoolers, which is Level C. I love this so much, because it's so easy for me, plus my kids enjoy it! It's a four-DVD set with basically all the teaching done by Andrew Pudewa, so I just turn on the DVD and enjoy it right alongside the kids. All I really need to do is keep an eye on my Teacher's Notes (included!) to know when the pause the DVD so the kids can work on the assignment. My kids have done SWI before (we reviewed Level B a couple years ago - see my previous review) so they were familiar with many of the basic rules such as "No Erasing Allowed" and "Always Double Space", and they were already versed in other elements of SWI such as using who-which clauses and many of the dress-ups; so we were able to jump right in after setting up our student notebooks.  (Level C is meant to be used by any high school student - they would not have had to use IEW previously in order to start in Level C.) We received one notebook with the set - it has a 3-ring binder and divider tabs, all the student hand-outs, and all the necessary Teacher's Notes. The course can be completed in either 15 or 30 weeks, depending on your preference, or you can adjust the suggested Course Schedule to suit your needs. We are working on it for a few more weeks, then we will take a summer break before finishing the course next school year.

Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @  
My students were able to follow along with the class in Mr Pudewa's workshop, taking notes and completing the same assignments. I want to emphasize that there are no complaints about them doing this. (That might change if I try to keep them going all through the summer, so I will give them a break!) They pay attention to the DVD and apply themselves to doing their best work on the writing assignments.
Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @
These two fall pretty much on the two ends of the spectrum that Mr Pudewa mentions during the TWSS. Some students don't like to write because they don't know what to write about - that's Landon, to a certain extent. Other students can write stories that go on forever, but they need help figuring out how to organize and structure their ideas - that's Kennady. 
Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @
Both my students enjoy working on this course. My creative story-teller daughter (just finishing Grade 8) likes being able to use vocabulary effectively and structure her writing well. My man-of-few-words and reluctant writer son (finishing Grade 10) is glad that he can practice writing well without also having the pressure of coming up with his own source material.
Fix-It! Grammar Books - This is my new favorite thing, I think. We received Book 1: The Nose Tree and Book 2: Robin Hood to try out. Kennady is using these, and we are finding this to be a delightful way of learning grammar incrementally. Students look for errors and correct them, and learn about parts of speech and their functions, as they work through the story a sentence at a time. We received the spiral-bound Teacher's Manuals, and each comes with a downloadable student book. (You may also purchase a spiral bound student book, if you prefer.) The Teacher's Manual gives detailed instructions for teaching, along with the full text of the Student Book. 
Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @
The student will need a two-pocket notebook with three-hole fasteners (if using the downloadable version of the Student Book)  and a single-subject blank spiral notebook for their work. The instructions state to work on one sentence per day for four days and then copy the corrected sentences into the blank spiral notebook. The sentences combine to form a story, so when the student has finished the Fix-It! book, they will have a complete story written in their own hand.

Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @
Kennady has a pretty solid grasp of most grammar concepts, so we are working using a slightly different pace. At this point, we are doing one week's worth of Fix-It! in one sitting. We do all the steps though, and it is still taking only a short amount of time per day. We go through the lesson for the Week, which might be Who Clauses or Action Verbs or Prepositions, then work through the sentences one at a time. For each of the four sentences in a Lesson, there is a vocabulary word to learn (instead of looking up and writing out definitions, I allow Kennady to tell me what the word means - so far she has known them all.), then the sentence is to be labelled with the parts of speech taught to that point. Punctuation is also added. Sometimes there are homophones and she needs to choose the correct spelling. This sentence is an example:
In the morning the soldiers, who were dumbfounded by the events of the night before, shared there/their/they're stories of the little man.
After making all the corrections and labeling the parts of speech, Kennady wrote the sentences into her notebook. At this point, this pace is great for us, and can take as little as fifteen minutes, and not more than half an hour. As we encounter parts of speech and other things that aren't old hat for Kennady, I'm sure we'll find that we need to break it up into two or three sessions per week, or even the four or five suggested.
Institute for Excellence in Writing, A Schoolhouse Crew Review on Homeschool Coffee Break @
A Word Write Now and Portable Walls - Finally, our Deluxe Set also included these helps for student writing. A Word Write Now is a thesaurus organized by themes like "Words for Compassion", "Words to Describe Temperature", and "Words for Smelling". Looking at the words to describe temperature, there are lists of nouns, adjectives, and verbs related to temperature. Each page has a blank list for the student to add more words, and a couple of quotes from literature that feature great descriptive language for that theme. The Appendix includes teaching tips, lists of Transition Words and Prepositions, and definitions and examples of literary devices. My kids and I have both found this thesaurus fascinating and so easy to use! I think it would be especially great for young students who need some help with finding strong descriptive words for their writing, but who may be confused by a traditional thesaurus. Truth is, I'm still confused by a traditional thesaurus sometimes. Brilliant resource! 
Portable Walls are a tool offered by IEW to help students set up a writing station at their desk or table, one that can easily be picked up and moved. It's a tri-fold folder with a pocket, covered with word lists (so students can avoid using the "banned words"!), prepositions, and all the Unit Models that go along with the SWI. We already owned one of these from our previous experience with the SWI, so now each of my kids has one. They are handy references that my kids keep in their Student Notebook. As you can see in the above pictures, my kids tend to work while on a sofa or easy chair, but they could keep their Wall handy to flip to a list for reference even in their lounging position. 

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What we liked best:

  • okay... everything?! 
  • Seriously though. I LOVE that I get to be in Mr Pudewa's class, and that my kids get to be in his class! He is an outstanding teacher, and even though we are watching a recorded session, there is a sense that he connects so well with students of all ages. He balances humor and high expectations, empathy and challenge in just the right amounts. Naturally, it's a blessing to me as a homeschool parent to have a master teacher present the material so that I don't have to pretend to be an expert in everything.
  • everything we received is easy to use, with clear explanations and instructions for the teacher.

What I need to mention:

Our bottom line: Yes, I was already a big fan of Institute for Excellence in Writing after having been through the Student Writing Intensive Level B with my students. Now that I have experience using Student Level Intensive Level C and Fix-It! Grammar, I am ever more impressed and delighted with these resources that are easy and enjoyable to implement, yet produce truly excellent results. I warmly recommend IEW for all homeschool families.
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Would you like to pursue excellence in writing in your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
Check out the articles on the IEW blog.

Pricing: The Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level C with Fix-It! Grammar 1 and 2 that we received is available for $299. Components can also be purchased separately, and Student Writing packages and products are available for other grade levels as well.

Recommended Ages: The Level C package we used is best for Grades 9-12. Fix-It! Grammar books are suited for Grades 3-12 and most students should work through the books in order no matter what their grade level. See the Fix-It! Grammar pages on the website for more information and for a placement test.

You can follow IEW on Facebook, on Pinterest, on Twitter, on YouTube, and on Google+.

Read our previous review on Homeschool Coffee Break.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. 
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