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Curriculum Review: The Complete Writer Series by Susan Wise Bauer

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I recently had the opportunity to review Susan Wise Bauer’s new writing curriculum, The Complete Writer. As you may know, Susan Wise Bauer and her mother, Jessie Wise, write some of my favorite curriculum, such as The Story of the Word series and First Language Lessons.

To me, the cover photograph of the adult’s hands guiding the child’s hands as she writes gives a perfect illustration of what The Complete Writer is all about: teaching and guiding the writing process from the very beginning stages.

Dr. Bauer points out, in the first chapter of the instructor text, that

Writing, unlike speech, isn’t a natural activity. Mankind survived for a very long time without finding it necessary to put anything down on paper.

The analogy that I would use for the point that Dr. Bauer conveys in the first chapter is that writing is much like math, in that the foundations have to be laid before higher levels skills can be mastered. Just as you wouldn’t expect someone to be able to do algebra, if he had never been taught the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, so a child who has not been taught the basics of how to put thoughts into words be expected to put articulate words on paper.

Dr. Bauer points out that there are two distinct steps of formal writing that must be taught and mastered before moving on to higher level writing. First a child must be able to take an abstract idea and put it into words. Then, he must be able to put those words on paper. This involves both the mental process of putting the idea into words and the physical process of actually being able to print the words onto paper.

That’s where The Complete Writer series comes in. The process of writing is broken down and taught in a step-by-step fashion. The first level focuses first on narration, then, on copywork. Narration involves the child being able to take a passage that he has read or has heard read and put it into his own words. Copywork involves simply copying a phrase — simple, at first, then increasing in complexity — onto his own paper, paying attention to spacing, spelling, capitalization and punctuation. This allows the child to see what good writing looks like.

While copywork is, initially, someone else’s writing, such as a passage from a favorite book, eventually it becomes the child’s own words. The parent will write down the child’s narration and let her use her own words for copywork.

Once narration and copywork have been mastered, the child moves on to dictation, which is putting on paper phrases that have been read to him, but which he is not copying directly. This allows the child to learn to keep the words in his mind long enough to get them on paper and to visualize what they should look like when written, including spelling, punctuation and capitalization. As with copywork, eventually the parent will read, as dictation, the child’s own narration, so that he is learning to put his own thoughts on paper.

So, what makes up The Complete Writer’s series? There is the instruction book, Writing With Ease (priced at $29.95), along with, to date, two student workbooks $34.95 each). The instruction book contains two parts. Part I: Understanding the Process is a very thought-provoking look at Susan Wise Bauer’s explanation of the writing process:

  • how the process should be developed
  • why an incomplete foundation produces poor results
  • an overview of the three stages of writing
  • how to use the book
  • where to begin, including where to begin with an older, struggling writer

Part II contains:

  • Overview of the Early Years (teaching preschool and Kindergarten writing informally)
  • Lesson outlines for Years 1-4

The instruction text can be used as a stand alone curriculum, but it takes some planning. It gives a detailed first lesson for each new concept, then, provides a pattern for the remaining weeks until the next new concept. It really appealed to me to use the program with just the instruction book because that would allow me to incorporate writing with things that we were already doing, rather than having another separate workbook. For example, narration and copywork could be taken from our history or science books or a read aloud. However, using the instruction book in this way takes a lot of pre-planning. That’s what makes the student workbooks so appealing.

The student workbooks are consumable texts with all the writing lessons completely laid out for parent and child. The passages to be read for narration, and later dictation, are included, along with questions to help the narration process if the student is having trouble putting the passage into his own words. Copywork is also included, along with related illustrations on the copywork pages. With the student workbooks, you can just pick up the book and go with little to no pre-planning of lessons. Everything is right there for you.

Do you need the instruction book, if you purchase the student texts? No, you don’t have to have it, but it is, according to the Peace Hill Press website, the core text. Along with an overview of how the entire series works, it also contains some wonderful information that really helps you to understand the writing process and, if you’re also using the First Language Lessons series, to see how the grammar texts and the writing texts work together to produce a strong foundation for writing. In addition to the information contained in Parts I and II, the instruction text also contains:

  • a “frequently asked questions” section
  • a troubleshooting section
  • tips on what to do after Year 4
  • a resource list for handwriting, phonics and audio books

You can see exerpts from The Complete Writer series, along with all of Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s other homeschooling products at Peace Hill Press.

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.

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6 Comments

  1. I've really been thinking about getting this for next year so I'm glad to hear from you all about it!

  2. Oh, I've been waiting for this! My question is would this program be too babyish for my rising 4th and 6th graders? I looked at the site, and it says that it is geared toward grades 1-4, or struggling writers, but having looked it over, do you think could adapt it to my older kids to teach better writing? I'm wondering if I would be better off just buying the teacher's text, and skipping the first student workbook, or should I just wait until the books for older students come out in the future and take another look at it then? I know you don't know my kids or their abilities, but I'd like to know your opinion!

  3. So excited to hear that you love it too – since I'm planning on using it this coming year! 🙂

    Jolanthe

  4. Sue,

    If it were me, I'd probably start with the instructor text, unless you wanted to combine postage and wouldn't mind holding on to the student texts for your younger kids, if you wound up not using it.

    Dr. Bauer offers suggestions, in the instructor text, for assessing where a student needs to start. Sometimes it *is* at the beginning. It just depends on the child's strengths and weaknesses.

    I think the information in the teacher text is definitely adaptable to older kids (I was working on it with Brianna when we ended our school year); it just takes some extra planning if you want to use materials that your older students are already working on.

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