Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Getting Ready to Write at the College Level (A Homeschool Coffee Break Review)

We are a week into the new school year, and for my daughter that means college and an English 101 College Writing class. Several weeks ago we had the opportunity to start reviewing the College-Ready Writing Essentials™ course from BetterRhetor and despite our very busy schedule, I hoped it would prove to be good timing as we headed towards the school year.

The mission of BetterRhetor is to help more students to succeed in college. They cite statistics on their website showing that a large majority of students entering college really are not ready for college level work. That means that fewer students go to college, more students need remedial help when they do go to college, and many don't graduate. I would guess that there's a lot of frustration and stress for the students that do stay in college but don't feel like they know what they are doing! BetterRhetor provides instruction and assessment that help teachers (and homeschool parents) get students prepped for college academics, specifically in the area of college-ready writing.

Their College-Ready Writing Essentials™ course teaches that very important skill of academic writing, and bridges that gap between high school or pre-college writing and the mastery of college-level writing skills. College-Ready Writing Essentials™  or CRWE is available as a Full Package with complete curriculum and worksheets, and as a Premium package which has additional exercises and includes personalized feedback from the course developer, Dr. William Bryant, PhD.

How did we use it?  We received the Full Package for our review. Kennady is a confident writer and in a co-op class last year she worked on polishing her non-fiction writing skills. She just graduated high school and has just started community college. Overall we thought she would manage quite well with college writing, and of course she must take the standard writing course anyway, but none of us have experience with this college or the coursework she would be doing, so it only made sense to take advantage of an opportunity to prepare using this course. Our huge concern going in was making enough time to get through the course, because we had to work in and around our vacations. So we squeezed in some work on the course whenever we could.

CRWE provides detailed instruction on the process of writing a research-based persuasive essay, guiding a student through every step of planning, researching, and writing a college-level essay about three to five pages long. From choosing a topic and defining the issue to be addressed to making a reasonable, evidence-based argument to defend and support your opinion, this course explains it all thoroughly. There are a total of twenty-five lessons in four units plus the introduction:

  • Overview - Lesson One 
  • Planning - Lessons Two through Eleven discuss topic selection, reading and researching, taking a position, and outlining.
  • Drafting - Lessons Twelve through Nineteen are about rhetorical appeals, explaining and supporting your position, addressing counter-arguments, and what to expect in peer reviews.
  • Revising - Lessons Twenty through Twenty-three guide the student through reviewing, evaluating, and improving the essay.
  • Finalizing - Lessons Twenty-four and Twenty-five wrap up the whole process with an emphasis on correct formatting and presentation.

We found that CRWE gave very clear instructions and explanations about every aspect of college writing, and not just the "how to" but the importance of the skills demonstrated in competent writing. At this level, students need to show that they are knowledgeable about the topics they address, that they can think critically and contribute something meaningful to the discussion of the topic, and that they can communicate clearly and effectively. And why a persuasive essay? Because it's the kind of essay that students will be asked to write in all kinds of classes, from English to Business to Political Science and everything in between. It's also the kind of writing that demonstrates clear thinking and reasoning, strong communication skills, and solid research.

Examples of student work in the planning stages and completed essays are given throughout so you can see what the process looks like. Because peer review is a component of college writing that is different from what most high school students have done, there's plenty of explanation and guidance in what to expect during peer review and how to offer useful feedback as well.

The lessons include detailed step-by-step instruction, along with downloadable worksheets to help organize thoughts. Although the worksheets are there for you to practice the skills, they aren't disjointed example topics, but you are working on your own essay from start to finish. The initial worksheets help you generate possible ideas, distill those into possible issues that could be debated, and questions or problems that could be addressed. From there, you choose your specific topic and then go on to the next lessons and worksheets guiding you in gathering research, formulating arguments, and analyzing the opinions and perspectives on the topic before establishing your own position and an outline for presenting your reasoning.

Some of the lessons require quite a bit of reading, not just the lesson material, but also the example essays. Other lessons are considerably shorter, explaining what needs to be done next and why, or what to expect during peer reviews, for example. The instructions for the assignments are summarized clearly and concisely. 

Formatting, Work Cited pages, and appropriate titles are discussed in the Finalization lessons. 

What we liked best:
  • very thorough explanations, and although it's a serious course, the lessons are presented in a conversational and easy-to-understand style.
  • I especially appreciated that the purpose of academic expectations is addressed throughout
  • Kennady said that the examples given were very helpful
  • Kennady liked that the exercises and instructions were easy to follow, and that it was very helpful to her for organizing her ideas.
What I need to mention:
  • Some of those very long lessons with a lot of reading were troublesome for Kennady as she was reading on a screen. She would have liked more visual breaks on some of them. 
  • There are downloadable worksheets provided, but they are at the very bottom of each lesson. So Kennady got frustrated with having to scroll all the way down from the top third of a lesson where the worksheet was assigned to find the download; and then scroll all the way back up to find her place again. She would have liked the download link to be right where the assignment was given.
  • Plan on using this course as a writing intensive, and focusing on it over several weeks rather than trying to do a bit, take a break, and then a bit more. We knew it going in, but having vacation days break up Kennady's progress in the course slowed her down a lot. 
Our bottom line: This is an excellent intensive course that would be very suitable for a high school senior, a motivated high school junior, or for a summer preparation course for a high school graduate. It is not light or casual, but takes a serious approach to building the necessary thinking and writing skills for students who want to be well prepared for college academics.

Would you like to prep for college level writing? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website: 
Find our more about the College-Ready Writing Essentials courses at:

Pricing: The Full Package course is available for $49, and the Premium Package course is available for $99. You can try out the FREE mini-package to get an idea of what the courses are like:

Age recommendations: high school students (especially juniors and seniors) and up.

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