Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Institute for Excellence in Writing


I am a fan of reading (Have you noticed that yet?). I also think I’m a tolerable writer (I will leave each of you, my readers, to be the judge of that). However, I am NOT confident as a teacher of writing and composition. I think it relates to my finding writing fairly intuitive, but therefore difficult to teach. I am also befuddled because my well-read children don't really enjoy writing. (How many of you have heard that "if your children are good readers they will absorb the ability to be good writers"? I can testify that it doesn't always work that way. For these reasons I was extremely delighted to have been chosen to review the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Teaching Writing with Structure and Style(TWSS)/ Student Writing Intensive(SWI) combo package “B” (intended for grades 6-8) for the TOS Crew.

As someone who had been in a workshop or two with Andrew Pudewa at a conference, I was familiar with the the Institute for Excellence in Writing, but I really had no idea what the SWI or the TWSS programs entailed. Here is some information that I think may be helpful for those considering purchasing either or both.

The Basics:

First, I need to mention that both products can stand alone, but they also work well together.

In order to test this out, I started using the SWI first, before looking at the TWSS.

Student Writing Intensive is a workshop for students, making use of taped live workshop sessions. We were sent Level B. There are 4 DVD’s in the course with 15 lessons (which can take 15-30 weeks or so). It also comes with a notebook which includes copies of the forms and lists that the children will be using, as well as plenty of space for their own writing papers.
SWI is one of those wonderful programs that allows me (the parent and teacher) to invite another teacher into my home (Andrew Pudewa) to teach my child(ren). I really didn't have a handle on the concept that this entire program really is a course or "workshop" for my student, and that I get to be the "teacher's assistant" if you will. :) Yes, I'm repeating myself here, so that others will better understand that concept.

By the way, Andrew Pudewa has a great sense of humor, albeit a rather "Boy-ish" one (imagine that!). He even had my fairly demure daughter chuckling over the explanation of his classroom "Fingering" system ("1 finger in the air means you have a question about..... 2 fingers.... and 3 fingers......). You'll have to actually watch the DVD to understand that one, but it is worth the chuckle.

Eldest enjoys being somewhat independent with her schoolwork, and we have found that a few DVD classes tend to work well with her. I enjoyed being able to sit back and watch the lessons with her, but serve only as reinforcement. I think that the SWI could be used fairly independently, if your student is motivated.

The units move at a fairly steady pace and build writing skills, focusing on just a few techniques and structural elements at a time. I should mention here that if your student has an extremely creative literary bent and is ALWAYS writing, this program might feel a little stifling.  However, Andrew Pudewa has taken pity on the poor souls who never know what to write about, and has given them specific excerpts to re-write. The basic concept is that it is too hard for many children (And adults) to concentrate on learning how to write AND come up with their own content at the same time. I think that depending on your student, and possibly allowing them to choose their own topics, even prolific stream-of-consciousness writers can gain some insight on how to "dress up" and improve their writing.

SWI gets 2 thumbs up from Eldest~ She is looking forward to continuing with it next year, which leads me to the....

Teaching Writing with Structure and Style  Seminar and workbook. Included in the package I received was the original TWSS seminar (recorded in 2000) on 6 DVDs. Just like the SWI, this is a live class or workshop, but for the teacher this time. This was similar in many ways to sitting in on a bunch of "Andrew Pudewa" homeschool convention workshop. Lots of great information and tips~ I'll list a few of my favorite "nuggets" a little later on. 

TWSS also includes the Tips & Tricks DVD (recorded at a 2007workshop/seminar) as well as three DVDs that are sort of a quick version of the SWI for each level.
One of the first "Tips"~
"Don’t drag the program out!  Don’t get stuck on the first 2 units. 3-8 weeks TOPS! Just move on!" (Schedule the change to the next unit, and follow it, regardless of whether or not there is a firm understanding). (Uh-oh! I should have listened to this earlier!)  If you are planning to do much of the teaching yourself, and you have time, it would be very good to go through the entire seminar before starting to familiarize yourself with everything, AND listen to the Tips & Tricks DVD. You can "muddle along" like I did for a while, but really, it would be in your best interests to invest that time more or less up front. However, if listening to the entire course at once is too daunting, don't let that hold you back. Go ahead and start, just remember this first tip... keep moving! :)

Doing the same work that your students will be asked to do (in the TWSS seminars) may be one of the most valuable tools. It helps to DO before you teach! :)

Some nuggets that I feel are worth sharing as they apply to many things~
  • Don’t tell them “Don’t do that!”, instead teach them what TO do! You can’t efficiently get rid of a bad habit, without replacing it with a good one.
  • “Tests” inform children what they DON’T know (“I got ___ wrong on the test”), while writing and essays are good methods to show what they DO know.
  • The purpose of SWI and TWSS is to “Practice” writing differently, rather than writing the best possible piece. This will allow the student to eventually write excellent papers without having to actually "Think" about the mechanics, and instead focus on the content.
  • “Thinking” is not only answering the questions but learning to ask the questions of yourself.
I think that the TWSS is a very valuable tool, and will help me to teach my children how to be better writers. I can see pulling this out yearly and going through the units until they really know what they are doing. 

The nitty gritty~
This is not an inexpensive program, but as with many things, I feel you get what you pay for. Quality.
The package I received Teaching Writing/Student Writing Intensive Combo Pack $239
Each component is available separately, but purchasing them together saves $29.

To get an idea of which course would best suit your family I highly recommend taking some time to browse through the Institute for Excellence in Writing website.
  • There are numerous introductory videos and samples on the website (For instance, if you scroll to the bottom of this page, you will find an introductory video, a video excerpt from the class, and 2 sample files to download)
  • There is a fantastic "Help and Support" page that should answer many questions as well as lead you to many articles that are helpful and informative. 
  • Newsletters from 1996 on as well as the new "Magalogs" may be accessed through the "Help and Support" tab as well (Or you can just click here)
Last but not least, another nifty little item we received was a Portable Wall($7). This is a tri-fold folder (Think the size of a regular folder but with 2 flaps that open outward instead of just one) that can help take the place of all the posters with which Andrew Pudewa recommends decorating our homes! This could be a little handier for those of us who don't have entire classroom walls at our disposal! :)

As always, I hope that this review was helpful to you as you choose how best to spend your family's homeschool funds. For more opinions on this and other levels of SWI and TWSS, please visit the TOS Crew blog.

Now I will leave you with two of my favorite "Nuggets" from TWSS.  These resonate strongly with this homeschooling mom!

You do not learn from Multiple Choice tests! Multiple choice tests put the emphasis on what we do NOT know. "I got 4 wrong... I don't know 4 things."  Well, you're never going to know everything there is to know about everything anyway. So who cares what you don't know! What's more important is what you DO know, and can you communicate that effectively.  Andrew Pudewa

Make writing a part of the study of everything.  Andrew Pudewa

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this/these item(s)/service for free as part of the TOS Crew Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lis!
    What a great review of IEW SWI. We used it this year and really enjoyed it. I always wondered what the portable wall was and never had a chance to check it out. Now, because I read your wonderful blog, I finally know what it is and realize I NEED THAT! Thanks so much for your thorough and thoughtful review.
    Grace be to You!


Thanks so much for letting me know you were here. I appreciate "thoughtful" comments. :)


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