Writing has always been a struggle for my oldest. It’s a combination of struggling with the effects of dyslexia and — okay, here’s the hard part — struggling with a perfectionist mom who loves to write. Now, don’t get me wrong; I try really hard not to completely tear apart Brianna’s writing, but I will admit to having high standards and having trouble finding a middle ground. We’ve tried a lot of different curriculum choices with limited success.
I’d heard about IEW for years, but hadn’t tried it for a variety of reasons. One, it seemed pretty pricey. Two, it seemed like it might be complicated to implement.
I started looking into IEW again over the summer after reading Barb’s thorough review at The Curriculum Choice. I approached the folks at IEW about doing a review, but, when our curriculum fair rolled around and I hadn’t had a reply, I wandered over to the table to take a look.
After talking to the representative, it seemed like it might be a great fit for us. I didn’t purchase anything right then because I knew I’d need to talk to Brian first, but every time I mentioned Institute for Excellence in Writing to friends, they had either used it and loved it or knew someone who used it and loved it and were debating on purchasing it themselves.
After discussing it with Brian, we decided to bite the bullet and make the purchase. Several factors played into our decision:
- IEW offers a solid, systematic approach to writing that we felt would be good for Brianna.
- It offers a fairly subjective approach to grading written work that would make it easier for me to focus on the mechanics.
- I knew I wanted a solid foundation for Josh and Megan from the beginning of their formal writing education.
- Because IEW is non-consumable and teaches the instructor how to teach writing, from the first stages through high school, it is, in fact, much more cost-effective than it may seem at first glance.
In the interest of full disclosure, a few weeks after we purchased Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) and the Student Writing Intensive (SWI), I heard from the folks at IEW. They wanted me to review it! Ultimately, I was reimbursed for my purchase as part of the review process, but I did want to make it clear that I felt strongly enough about IEW to purchase it myself, regardless of whether or not I’d be officially reviewing it.
We have loved IEW! We started with Level B, which, after talking with Jill on IEW’s email loop (more on that in a bit), seemed the perfect middle ground for our family since I had younger kids using it, along with an older sibling with writing struggles. After more discussion with Jill, I decided to just keep everyone at the scheduled pace for Level B, which moves a bit faster than Josh and Megan would if they were starting with Level A, typical for their ages, and a little slower than Brianna would if she were using Level C. After several weeks, this seems to be working out wonderfully for everyone.
The backbone of Institute for Excellence in Writing is Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, which is, essentially, a writing instruction course for parents and teachers. TWSS is a ten-hour DVD seminar in which Andrew Pudewa, IEW director and homeschooling father of seven, teaches you how to teach writing to your students. Using the six-DVD set and the practicum notebook, you’ll learn along with the attendees of this two-day seminar, except you get to do so at your own pace…even in your PJ’s if you like.
TWSS is all you have to have to effectively use IEW since the idea is to take what you’ve learned and use it across your homeschool curriculum, without teaching writing as a separate course. So, you can apply what you’ve learned while you have your children write, using their history and science texts as their source text. However, the Student Writing Intensives are offered to make teaching and implementing what you’ve learned as easy as possible. Honestly, I can see TWSS being very overwhelming, at first, without the SWI.
Each level of the SWI is its own writing instruction course, featuring DVD recordings of Mr. Pudewa teaching writing to elementary (Level A), middle school (Level B) and high school (Level C) students. The accompanying notebook offers source texts on which your students can practice what they’re learning. Despite the initial grumbling, my kids really enjoy watching Mr. Pudewa. He’s funny and cuts up with the kids, even joking about how excited they must all be (not) to be attending a writing class. The lessons that he does on the DVD are always the first lessons contained in the SWI, so your kids can work right along with the kids on the DVD.
Although the SWI teaches to the student, it is not intended that students use it to complete the Institute for Excellence in Writing course on their own. This program does require teacher interaction, but it’s nowhere near as time consuming as I had feared it would be. Basically, you watch the corresponding TWSS DVD on your own, then, watch the SWI with your kids. You follow the DVD lesson with supplemental practice assignments so that each lesson is thoroughly mastered before moving onto the next. We’ve been spending two or three weeks on each segment, so far.
No matter which level you start with, all students begin by learning to write a key word outline (KWO). Basically, this is writing down 3 or 4 key words from each sentence in a paragraph. After the key work outline is completed, the kids test it by narrating complete sentences based on the key words. If the KWO passes the test, the kids write down the complete sentences that they’ve narrated, adding a few “dress-ups,” and using the KWO as the basis for their own paragraphs. Mr. Pudewa likens this practice to learning to play the violin, saying that you, as a new student of the violin, would not be expected to begin by composing your own original musical compositions.
That was a light bulb moment for me. It helped me see that what my kids really needed was a good model for writing and practice using that model. Not only that, but the key word outline has successfully solved one of Brianna’s biggest problems with writing — run-on sentences. That girl can write an entire paragraph with only one period, but the KWO gives her a stopping point for her thoughts. Just seeing a page full of complete sentences gives me warm, fuzzy feelings about Brianna’s paragraphs. She has quickly gotten much more confident in her writing and I rarely even see her papers for edits anymore. (Just for the record, I intend to look over the rough draft, but sometimes I forget. So far, though, there haven’t been any major revisions needed on final drafts.)
I’ve taken a bit different approach with Josh and Megan. After a couple of weeks of trial and error, we now do their assignments together. We go over the KWO, alternating between the two of them for each sentence. One of them will read a sentence and tell me what key words they’d chose, at which point I may or may not try to redirect them to a better word. I write the key words on the white board to making copying easier, though each of them are free to use different key words than their sibling chose, as long as they use only three words.
Then, they take turns testing the KWO, each narrating alternating sentences. When it comes time to write their paragraph, they each take turns narrating sentences to me, which I write on the white board. Once they’re finished, we brainstorm and add dress-ups, then, they copy the final result. I plan on continuing in this manner for the rest of this school year and moving them toward independence next year. My ultimate goal is the give them a firm foundation in writing.
I am excited to see what the rest of the school year holds where writing is concerned. So far, I have been thoroughly impressed with Institute for Excellence in Writing. Brianna hasn’t been complaining about writing since we started it…and then there’s that whole run-on sentence thing. Josh and Megan don’t complain about writing, which, to me, speaks volumes about their introduction to formal writing. This year, using SWI-B, we’ll be covering:
- Key word outlines
- Summarizing from notes
- Choosing a strong title
- Story sequence
- Report writing
- Creative writing
Using Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, we can ultimately, over the course of their homeschool education, cover all of that, plus:
- Essay writing
- Persuasive writing
- Cause and effect
- Literary analysis
The fact that all three of my kids can benefit from what I’ll learn using TWSS and that they can all effectively use one level of the SWI makes Institute for Excellence in writing much more cost effective than it initially appeared. (There are free supplementary downloads available for extra practice on each level, so we can use Level B, but Josh and Megan can do extra practice on Level A.) Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is available for $169. The Student Writing Intensive levels are $99 each, but you can purchase a TWSS/SWI combo for $239. Divided between my three kids and knowing that there is nothing else that I have to purchase to teach writing through high school, though supplemental materials are available, makes IEW just as affordable as any other writing options out there. They also offer a full-refund policy on everything they sell.
Finally, another huge benefit to using IEW is their Yahoo group, IEW-Families. This email group is just for families using IEW and is manned by Jill Pike, an IEW representative. Jill used IEW in her homeschool for years, ultimately becoming the official online voice the IEW Yahoo email loop where she patiently and thoroughly fields dozens of questions a day from IEW users. It’s such a relief knowing that there is a place I can go with any questions or concerns I may have about the program and can be assured of getting a quick and personalized answer, not to mention the support and ideas of fellow IEW users.
I know this has already been a long review, but there is so much to share and I am so excited about Institute for Excellence in Writing. I’ll be posting more about our experience with IEW as we progress, so be looking for a follow-up post near the end of the school year.
I received this product free for the purpose of reviewing it. I received no other compensation for this review. The opinions expressed in this review are my personal, honest opinions. Your experience may vary.