Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Essentials in Writing (Grade 10)

Ah... to write or not to write... that is the question.

Actually, if one hopes to function well in our society, one MUST be able to write clearly and efficiently, so there IS no question whether to write or not. Because of the importance of the ability to communicate with the written word I find it very useful to have good tools to help me teach this foundational skill.
My latest review item is a writing course from  Essentials in Writing, which offers courses from elementary through high school.  We received a set of DVD's for  10th grade, which include video instruction, and a pdf "Workbook" file.  I actually found it a little intimidating to write about a writing course this time around, and observed myself brushing up on some things that I have forgotten over the years. ;)

The full course covers:

  • SENTENCE STRUCTURE - dependent and independent clause; simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences; address sentence errors (fragment, run on, and comma splice)
  • THE FORMAL PARAGRAPH - structure; expository, persuasive, compare/contrast, descriptive, cause/effect, and narrative paragraphs
  • THE WRITING PROCESS - in depth study of each part of the writing process; practice the writing process with each multiparagraph composition
  • ESSAYS (formal and informal) - detailed instruction and step by step process for narrative, personal, expository, persuasive, and compare/contrast essays
  • RESEARCH PAPER (project) - detailed instruction and step by step process to conduct a research project and write a research paper (CAUSE/EFFECT)
Due to the short length of time (in full year curriculum terms) that we had to use this product for review, we did not go straight through the lessons in order, but spent time going through a selection of lessons in most of the units. We completed the first 6 lessons in sentence structure, the paragraph overview, with a focus on the persuasive paragraph, and we've gotten started on the process of writing an essay.

Matthew Stephens is a very personable instructor who has a passion for good writing. He doesn't give a flawless presentation, and trips up a bit in his speaking upon occasion, just as any instructor in front of a class, or speaker in front of an audience (without benefit of a teleprompter) is sure to do. Other than that, my daughter, who is fairly critical of video instructors, had nothing negative to say, which actually speaks volumes to me. :)

Matthew is filmed in front of a white board, where he demonstrates his lessons for the students, who can follow along with most of the exercises in the workbook. Each lesson in the workbook includes the exercises, with that lesson's assignment clearly defined~ Mom loves this... makes it easy for me! :)

I appreciate the way things are broken down into clear steps, creating a "Skeleton" for each end product, whether it is a compound/complex sentence, a persuasive paragraph, or an essay.
As my daughter says "He makes it look so easy." I am working on convincing her that it really IS easy, and she just needs to get her creative juices flowing. . . haven't quite succeeded with that, but we shall see.

Some Specific Thoughts

The Sentence Lessons were *mostly* review for her, but there were some good "tools" that Matthew pointed out. For instance, when to use punctuation when writing complex, compound, or compound complex sentences was something that I hadn't covered with her before. Run-ons and Fragments were interesting for her to see, but not something with which she has much of a problem. I am almost positive that recognizing fragments, etc... is one of the benefits of prolifically reading quality literature. Although I don't believe that good readers are always good writers, I believe they ARE generally good grammarians. 

The Paragraph Lessons were very well structured, although my daughter has trouble with the "organizing/rough draft" idea~ keeping her thoughts to brainstorming-phrase-length instead of complete sentences the first time out just doesn't happen. I have decided to go with that to some degree, since I think my brain tends to work the same way some times.

The Essay Lessons are well organized, and I am looking forward to seeing her complete one while following the Essentials in Writing framework. Again, she is having trouble taking it in small steps, but I think that she will accomplish much if she works at it, even if it means skipping the brainstorming and going straight to the rough draft, which in reality is the sort of thinking she will need to do when writing those lovely SAT essays.

One thing that I hope will help to keep her on target is  the "Checklist" included in the workbook. In the event she refuses to follow "The plan" she can use this to check back and make sure that what she is writing follows a logical path and is well written. If she discovers that she has a pattern of NOT writing logically, and has to rewrite too often, THEN she may decide that it's worth the effort to break things down to bare bones when organizing, but that remains to be seen.

I should also mention that there is a "Scoring Guide" included in the workbook. A Rubric to help the homeschool teacher evaluate their student's writing. I greatly appreciate this tool. Here is a video of Matthew Stephens speaking about how to use a Rubric (Using one from one of his curriculum workbooks), in case you'd like to get a feel for his work and personality.

I would say that typically a student shouldn't have to spend too much more than 45 minutes per lesson, including video time, at least in the early lessons, as the assignments aren't terribly grueling. If you have a quick-thinking teen, they should be done in no time. If it takes a L-O-N-G time to get creative... well then the lessons might be a wee bit longer for you (ask me how I know.... ;D)

I don't often comment on the value for money of items that we get for review~ I expect my readers to make their own judgement calls on what fits their budget and circumstance, but in this instance, I do feel that it is worth pointing out the very reasonable price for a year's worth of high school writing curriculum.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
Please click the banner below to visit the TOS Review Crew and see what others had to say. As always, I hope that this review was useful to you as you choose where best to spend your homeschool budget.

1 comment:

  1. This is an *excellent* thorough review! I appreciate the time and attention you clearly spent on this product and review.



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