Upon first hearing of Institute For Excellence in Writing a few years back, I became intrigued and intensely interested in the process by which to teach my children to be “excellent” writers.
Merely drawn by the word “Excellence” initially, I have been blessed with the opportunity to challenge this company’s bold inclusion of such a strong claim to their name. My thesaurus lists excellence as a noun synonymous with fineness, brilliance, superiority, distinction, and quality. Last fall, our family began a great adventure into the discovery of more than just an effective method of writing, but also an encouragement to lifelong learning.
Institute For Excellence in Writing offers several programs that teach writing skills. Their original “foundation” program is a video training seminar for parents and teachers entitled Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. The program includes a live dvd presentation of a two day writing seminar and practicum taught by Andrew Pudewa, accompanied by a workbook. Additional bonus dvds included with the seminar dvds are Student Workshops Gr. 2-4, Gr. 5-7, Gr 8-10+, and Tips and Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units. This program itself does not include student worksheets or exercises due to the fact that it is designed to be used with the students current curriculum as the source for writing (or paired with the Student Writing Intensive course produced to go along with it). The included student workshops, however, do show some examples of how to use the program with the students. Upon completion of this seminar, a parent or teacher should be fully equipped with understanding and confidence to teach their students to be lifelong, excellent writers.
Andrew begins this seminar by explaining that what makes this program different from others is that the problem of “I don’t know what to write about”, which makes writing overwhelming for many children, is immediately removed. This allows students to focus on how to write without the complexity of figuring out the content. One major goal of this program is for students to learn to ask increasingly difficult questions as the units progress and build upon each other.
I particularly enjoyed learning that the science and technique behind the seminar and practicum are based upon the Blended Sound-Sight Program of Learning, and hearing about some of the research and details of that program.
Two important things I learned from the Tips and Tricks dvd were to move on and not get stuck on perfecting a certain task or topic, and that the only mistake you can make teaching these units is not to try. An important concept to follow is to keep moving on even if you are intimidated by the process and don’t think you really quite understand, because you will gain understanding as you move through the program, as will your students. One of the biggest reasons noted for not continuing this program is getting stuck on a certain part, doing it over and over, or using material a bit above the student’s comprehension or interest level so the student gets bored or is not interested. One of the tips for getting kids engaged in the material so it doesn’t seem boring or uninteresting is to use relevant content. Relevant Content = Increased Comprehension.
Another tip for successful learning that is used in this program is “telling it back”. I’ve always used the “teaching it back to the teacher” as a benchmark for moving on, and this is a bit the same method, really. Once the student is able to tell the information back from his own notes, keyword outline, story sequence, etc, the teacher can be assured the student is engaged in his own learning.
The program also lends itself to setting the writer free from perfectionistic tendencies by allowing her the freedom to experiment, make a mess, and not stress about getting all the grammatical, spelling and punctuation elements perfect the very first time her ideas are put on paper. By making the rule “no erasing, double spacing”, Andrew allows the students full reign of their ideas so they can just write without worrying about messing up. This is a portion of his concept Minimum Correction/Maximum Encouragement. Novel idea, huh?
Once TWSS has been completed, a parent/teacher should have no problem using what has been learned to structure writing lessons for any subject being taught. There are additional materials and programs on the IEW website designed to help a teacher apply the writing structure and stylistic techniques they’ve learned to various subject material such as history and literature studies.
As a supplement to the TWSS teacher’s seminar, the Student Writing Intensive was produced to provide direct instruction for students and model the lessons taught in the seminar to teachers. This program is a live dvd presentation of a week-long student seminar, which was taught at three different class levels.
~Level A- For Elementary Age Students
~Level B- For Upper Elementary/Intermediate Age Students
~Level C- For Advanced Intermediate/ High School Age Students
Each of the levels are appropriate for beginning writers. They all include the same basic topics and instruction geared towards the specified ages.
While the actual dvd seminar is taught over a one week period, a 30 week course schedule is included along with lesson plans which include where to start and stop listening to the dvd. The Student Workbook which accompanies the program includes all of the handouts, addition practice and reinforcement materials, a scope and sequence of the lessons including optional source material, the suggested 30 week course schedule, and detailed teacher’s notes for each of the 15 lessons. This spreads the week long seminar out into a fully workable course, adding supplemental practice to reinforce the writing skills being taught so the students learn effectively.
The Student Writing Intensive (SWI) is based on the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) seminar, however, it can be used successfully without watching the teacher’s seminar. The student and parent can easily follow through the dvd lessons and workbook materials following the included schedule. The two, however, are best used together using the TWSS program alongside teaching SWI. Notes are included at the beginning of each SWI lesson directing which section of the teachers seminar dvd to watch and which pages in the teacher’s seminar notebook to read concurrently. This helps the teacher understand the reasons behind the instruction as well as passes along many teaching tricks and tips for teaching the lessons. As with anything, doing the lessons yourself will certainly help you be able to explain and model the teaching better!
Once the Student Writing Intensive is completed (at any of the three levels), IEW offers Student Intensive Continuation Courses at each of the three levels as an option to continuation of the writing lessons. After a student completes a basic level of SWI, then the student would move through the next levels of SICC (not returning to the next level of SWI which assumes no previous writing experience.) This provides years of extensive writing instructions through the dvd method.
While there are many other materials and programs offered by IEW to develop and advance a student’s educational experience, I’d like to share our family’s experience with the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style/ Student Writing Intensive Level C combo pack (Gr 9-12) which can be purchased for $239.00 on the IEW website.
Our family also received a handy fold-out Portable Wall ($7.00)which is a thick cardboard tri-folder with writing models and word lists.
A peek at how IEW fits in at Gunn Ranch Academy:
I feel the need to preface our experience with IEW by saying I have been acutely aware and praying for direction concerning writing instruction in our homeschool over the past couple of years. My oldest has been through a few writing programs, and seemed to be able to fair pretty well when writing subject material essays. Our history curriculum utilizes essays as a main part of the program, so writing is not completely foreign to either of my girls. Both my 14 year old and 10 year old are voracious readers. They have always loved to write and make up stories. Both achieved excellent goals writing novels in the online NaNoWriMo challenge last fall, which is a month long creative writing program anyone can participate in. My 10 year old, however, hasn’t really ever had much formal writing instruction. As I researched through a few different writing programs, I felt as if IEW really had a solid and structured-looking format which seemed to have the goal of lifelong application. Since my girls both aspire to attend college, I felt IEW would be a worthwhile endeavor. When given the opportunity to review the IEW program, I was absolutely overwhelmed with joy and gratitude!
Upon choosing a level, I read through the descriptions and learned that all of the SWI levels teach the same basic writing structure and style, but at the reading and comprehension level specific for the given ages. Subject material used is adapted to the level, and the higher levels progress a bit faster through the program. I felt with my oldest having prior writing experience and both girls reading on a high school level that level C would be a good fit, especially since I would be using the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style along with them. This would allow me to understand the concepts and adapt the level to my younger student as necessary.
When I first received the program I was so excited, but was really overwhelmed. I immediately opened the TWSS Seminar notebook and read the introduction, but as I began to flip through the pages, I became even more overwhelmed. I have always loved grammar and writing, so I originally thought this would be a piece of cake for me. The notes, however, looked completely unfamiliar, leading me to the conclusion that I had some serious work to do! (As well as a serious time commitment ahead of me!) This would not just be a quick review; this would be an intensive learning seminar I would need to be engaged with! A few days later as time permitted, I began to flip through the student workbook. I read through the introduction, which really grabbed my attention, followed by the scope and sequence, and then an organized course schedule. I began to get a little nervous about using both courses together until I flipped back to the first page of the notebook which was a bold print page entitled Easy Start Instructions. I grabbed my TWSS notebook to look for the same sheet, and yes indeed I found a sheet called Quick Start Guide. (Actually, the notebooks don’t come assembled. The pages and dividers are in packages sent separately with instructions on how to assemble them.) Those little jewels eased my mind significantly on diving in feet first!
With November dedicated to NaNoWriMo, I decided to try and watch the TWSS dvd’s myself before forging ahead into the Student program with the girls. The girls did, however confiscate the Portable Wall for use with their creative writing adventure! While they didn’t yet understand the model parts of the chart, they certainly appreciated having lists of “ly” adverbs, synonyms for “said”, prepositions and strong verbs for use with their story writing!
As I began to watch the teachers seminar, I found Andrew to be every bit as humorous and engaging as I had heard he was. Of all the boring lectures I sat through in my 9 years of college, I wish I had been introduced to many more instructors with the enthusiasm and down-to-earth speaking manners of Andrew Pudewa. I really felt as if I were sitting right in the classroom with him and found myself disappointed when I realized I was unable to engage personally in his lectures!! I have not had the privilege to hear him speak in person, but you better be sure I’ll jump at the opportunity if ever given the chance.
While I am without a doubt a hands-on-learner, I definitely found the practicum portion of this program easy to follow and even easier to teach as I worked through the lessons and completed the seminar assignments myself. After the holidays and new year, I couldn’t wait to get started with my girls. I knew they would be working through the program at different speeds, so we just scheduled times separately to work through the lessons after watching the first one together. My oldest worked through the lessons very quickly, finding that she didn’t need to work through many of the reinforcement or extra practice exercises.
With my ten year old we worked at a slower pace, completing most of the extra materials included with the program as well as using our personal subject materials to work from. She really enjoyed using her own choice of materials. I saw incredible reinforcement and progression in her understanding this way.
I’m still working through the program at a slower pace with my 10 year old, and watching the Teacher dvd lessons over as included in the student lesson notes. This has really shown me how well the two programs compliment each other. I certainly feel that it works like a well-oiled machine when together as suggested!
My 5 year old has really enjoyed watching Andrew’s presentations along with us. He might be among only a handful of 5 year olds in the nation walking around saying “Adverbial clause. Adverbial clause. Adverbial clause.” (You really have to watch the dvd’s to get the full meaning of this!! LOL)
In closing I must strongly express the extreme usefulness and academic success this program has the potential to bring into any student’s future. Started at an early age, I can only imagine where these little scholars might end up. Started in middle to high school, it can certainly pave a pathway of success for college, grad school, or any future endeavor. This program contains so much more than writing instruction. There are many tips and tricks on how to effectively read and use textbooks, take lecture notes you can understand, survive not only in college, but in life. There are endless references to the challenges of teaching children- your own and others, the differences in boys and girls, learning styles, comprehension, organizational skills, and methods of learning. It’s all in there.
The IEW website is CHALKED FULL of useful information, articles, conference talk handouts, and encouragement of all kinds.
One last valuable resource I would like to mention here, is the IEW Yahoo group. I joined this forum for support and ideas on using this program, and found a WEALTH of knowledge there. There are some amazing questions, answers and ideas on all of the materials offered on the IEW website. There is also a group for coop and teachers of small groups, and another for traditional classroom teachers.
This company and its programs are appropriately named Excellent. This is, indeed, Fine, Brilliant, Superior, Distinctive and Quality learning material!
I will be forever grateful to IEW for extending their excellence into our homeschool. I can’t wait to use Excellence in Literature in our high school journey!
Check out my Crew Mates’ adventures with this and some of the other IEW products by visiting the Crew Blog.
If you are thinking about using IEW, have questions, opinions, or comments on this program- I’d love to hear them!
We received these IEW materials as members of the TOS Homeschool Crew for review purposes. No other compensation was received and opinions expressed here are our own.