Where do I start?! This is one of those reviews that I have *so* much to say about, it would really be better if we could sit down with a cup of coffee, some chocolate and have a nice chat! Instead, I'll try my best to not be too wordy, give you the nitty gritty and hopefully give you a good enough idea of if this is something that will work for your family.
I'm sure if you've been homeschooling long enough that the words "IEW" or "TWSS" or "Structure and Style" or Andrew Pudewa are not new to you. I'm also pretty sure that some of you may have taken one look at the IEW catalog and thought...whoa?! that looks a little overwhelming. At least that's what I have done the last several years that the IEW "magalog" has shown up in my mailbox! You see, I heard a lot about IEW and their products over the last couple of years, but I hadn't actually been able to see them in person or better yet, use them! Now, however, that is not the case and I am thrilled with what I've discovered about IEW!! I received the Student Writing Intensive Level A (SWI-A $99), the Portable Wall ($7) and the Structure and Style Overview DVD ($10) to review. If you haven't heard of IEW before, read on and then click HERE!
The Institue of Excellence in Writing has been in business since 1995. From their magalog, they state they are "in the business of equipping teachers with methods and materials to aid them in training their students to become confident and competent communicators." I have found that to be true in using SWI-A and spending copius amounts of time on their website, Excellence In Writing, and more recently soaking up information on their very active yahoo group, IEWFamilies. They are very generous with their knowledge, have many articles available on their website and Jill Pike, one of their staff members, is often available on the IEWFamilies loop to answer questions. If you sign up for their Magalog, you will get the download information for 2 FREE audio seminars titled "Freedomship Education Paradigm" and "Grammar and Editing Skills". They offer an unconditional, no time limit 100% Full Refund guarantee on everything they sell if it is purchased from them. So, you really, really can't lose by trying out some of their products! I'm sure the reason they can offer such a guarantee, is because after using their products, you won't want to return it!!
The Student Writing Intensive Level A is a DVD writing course taught directly to the student by Andrew Pudewa. These DVD sessions follow the same structural models and techniques in the "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style", however, Andrew Pudewa does the teaching and you do the facilitating of the writing process. You become Editor-in-Chief of your homeschool! SWI-A contains: four DVD's, a binder with dividers for the students' work, and a teacher packet with notes, handouts for the student and checklists. Student Writing Intensive is available in 3 levels, Level A (grades 3-5), Level B (grades 6-8) and Level C (grades 9-12). It has 15 lessons, each meant to be completed in 1-2 weeks, so you can easily complete this in one school year.
Structure and Style Overview DVD with Andrew Pudewa and accompanying handouts is nearly 2.5 hours long and is an excellent introduction to the method used in "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style"(TWSS). It briefly covers the 9 units of structure and introduces several stylistic techniques. This really helped me see where the program was headed, how we were going to get there and why we were doing things the way we were. I highly recommend this!
Portable Walls are a writing station for students to use at their desk is packed with Unit Models, Stylistic Techniques and various word lists. Another handy thing to have, although I don't know that it is vitally important.
A Sample Writing
This is a sample of my daughter's writing from one of the first lessons. She dictated it to me and I did the physical writing. This is done from a Key Word Outline. As I am re-reading it, I can see that she forgot to include the "which" clause. My editing/teaching skill weren't up to par that day!
The tarantula is the largest spider in the world. The tarantula was portrayed in movies as dangerous but do not harm humans. It lives most of its life in underground burrows. They lay by the entrance to their burrow waiting for small insects and animals. Male tarantulas look for adult female burrows during mating season. Males live 10 to 11 years and die after mating. Females live 25 years or more. Females can mate several times in their life.
What Do I Think?!
First, a little background. I used this with Mr. Lego (3rd grade) and Miss J(5th grade). They are both struggling writers and spellers. Mr. Lego is a struggling reader, as well. When we first received the materials (which BTW, how has it possibly been 6 months already?!) I watched the Structure and Style Overview DVD, poured over the Packet from SWI-A and sketched out a rough schedule of how I wanted to proceed with the course. The key to IEW is mastery, so as to make the student internalize the rules and tools of writing so completely that the process becomes automatic and doesn't have to be thought about. We watched the DVD lesson, following the suggestions in the student packet for how to structure each day. We ended up taking longer for each lesson than two weeks, but part of that is my fault (consistency is not my strong suit) and while Mr. Pudewa does encourage students to just write and have the Editor-in-Chief (that's me!) edit later, that has been difficult for Miss J to do. With a lot of practice, she is getting a lot better about writing first, editing later, but it is a process. For Mr. Lego, although he really enjoyed the lessons we completed, because of his reading/spelling struggles the process of writing has been difficult for him. I am glad that he has had this good experience and I fully expect the process of writing to be much easier for him next fall as he has matured a bit more. In hindsight, because of the program I use to teach Language Arts and Mr. Lego's abilities, I probably wouldn't begin this program with a 3rd grader again. However, this picks up perfectly where my LA program stops in 5th grade, so I am even more thankful to have discovered it!
SWI-A was created for parents who need a pick up and go, teach my kiddo writing course that do not want to find source materials on their own time or do the teaching directly. If that is you, then SWI-A is the perfect way to teach writing and an excellent way to be introduced to "Teaching Writing with Structure and Style". I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to use this first. In fact, when we first were chosen for the review, I was so relieved that I didn't receive the TWSS-SWI combo pack, since I couldn't imagine watching all the DVD seminars in the TWSS. Just goes to show you what I know! ;-) Now, 6 months later, after trying to complete our regular studies that have writing assignments *and* trying to stay on top of getting through SWI-A, I would have loved to be able to learn the method taught in the TWSS and use those methods to teach writing "across the curriculum!" In fact, as I plan our studies for this fall, I am planning on purchasing the TWSS to use to teach writing using our regular curriculum for our source materials! This will really streamline our day and create the writing environment that I have always envisioned, but never quite grasped how to create. Thank you IEW!! I spent a lot of time at the IEW booth at our local homeschool convention and asked them if what I want to do will actually work and they assured me that TWSS was created just for this purpose! It is used to teach the teacher and as I become more comfortable in my role as mother/teacher, I really appreciate materials that help me become a better teacher, not just tell me what to do every day. Imagine...being able to use the (living) books we are already reading and create a comprehensive writing program.
I loved our first experience with IEW. Anything that has my 9 year old, reluctant reader and writer saying "Hey, mom, this is pretty cool, can we watch him again?!" is an A+++ in my book. Anything that encourages my daughter to just write and tells her that I can be the editor is a winner in my book as well. My IEW wish list has gotten considerably longer and what I used to think "eeek...that's overwhelming" now makes perfect sense and I *finally* feel comfortable with teaching writing!
Don't forget to stop by the TOS Review Crew blog to see what my Crewmates thought of their experience with Institute for Excellence in Writing!
P.S. If you are a mom of boys then you must watch "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day" This answers all those puzzling questions about why boys do the things they do and how to work with them, instead of against them!! I sat through it thinking "Aha...!!! That's why!!"
**Any products reviewed by me as a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew have been given to me free of charge in order for me to provide you with an honest review of the product and/or how we used the product within our family. I do not receive any other form of compensation for the reviews posted on the blog.