My family has used both WriteShop and Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). If you read both my review of WriteShop and my review of IEW, you’ll see that I am enthusiastic about both, which usually leads to some questions.
- Why did you switch?
- How are they different?
- Which do you recommend
I’ve answered those questions so many times, I thought I might as well write a blog post comparing the two.
How are WriteShop and IEW different?
WriteShop and IEW have many similarities. Both encourage what IEW calls “dress-ups.” These include strong word choices – interesting adjectives and more creative verbs, for example. They also encourage a variety of sentence types – such as starting a sentence with paired adjectives or an adverbial phrase. I think many parents who have used one of the programs would recognize similarities with the other.
I noticed three main differences between IEW and WriteShop.
Modeling vs. original compositions
IEW’s main focus, at least at the beginning, is modeling. Students use a passage from someone else’s writing (a fable, for example) and use it to create a key word outline. They pick out one or two words from each sentence to make notes. Students then use this key word outline to rewrite the paragraph in their own words.
The idea behind this is that seeing good writing modeled will help students learn to write well when they move on to original work – similar to the way a student learns to play an instrument by using sheet music before he writes his own musical compositions.
With WriteShop, it is the parent who is providing the modeling. Parents guide students through brainstorming exercises and demonstrate how to write a paragraph from the ideas jotted down during brainstorming. Then, the students write their own paragraph using the techniques learned while writing the practice paragraph.
Scope of WriteShop vs. IEW
Institute for Excellence in Writing is designed as something of a course for the instructor. It teaches the parent how to teach writing and is designed to be used from elementary school through high school. Basically, you teach your student through the appropriate level of Student Writing Intensive (elementary, middle school, or high school). After that, they use the techniques to apply what they’ve learned across the curriculum.
Students only go through one level of SWI. The techniques are the same in each, but with a higher level of writing depending on the student’s grade level. Once they’ve learned the basics, writing isn’t supposed to be a separate subject to be taught, but rather a skill to be applied in all other subjects.
WriteShop I and II are designed to be used for about one school year each (though we’ll probably take it a bit slower), giving them, perhaps, a more limited scope than IEW. That being said, the same principal is true: once writing skills are learned, applying them can be done across the curriculum no matter the subject.
WriteShop offers specific lesson plans, where IEW does not. When we used IEW, we did have a certain rhythm to our week. We’d watch the DVD on one day, do the KWO another day, and write paragraphs the third day.
With WriteShop, there are three specific lesson plan outlines: one for completing the program in one year, another for completing it in two years, and a third for completing it in three years. Each lesson is designed to take about a week or two. We’ve adjusted the three year track so that we’re completing two lessons in each six week period, working on writing two or three days a week.
Is WriteShop or IEW better?
The two questions most people want to know are: why did you switch and which program is better?
We put IEW on the shelf because, while I saw the value in them, after awhile my kids found the Key Word Outlines tedious. Watching the DVD was somewhat time-consuming. Doing the KWO outlines were time-consuming. Writing was time-consuming.
Yes, I know I said in my IEW review that it wasn’t as time-consuming as I thought it would be and it wasn’t…but it wasn’t something I could send the kids off to do on their own either. It did require a decent amount of time on my part.
So, IEW sat on my shelf collecting dust. I refused to sell it, though, because I was sure we’d come back to it at some point. It is an excellent writing program.
Meanwhile, I started hearing people talk about WriteShop. It was shiny and new. It looked easy to implement. It caught my attention.
So, I emailed its author, Kim Kautzer, and told her I’d like to review it. She asked me why I wanted to use it instead of IEW. I told her about the KWO. She started telling me about WriteShop and the differences and similarities between the programs and, you know what? I started thinking, “Uh-oh. This sounds kind of time-consuming.”
And, you know what? It kind of is.
I have discovered something about writing. If you want your kids to do it well, it takes some input on the part of the parent. It’s not just something you can send them off to do – at least, not at first. As I said in my review of WriteShop,
Teaching writing this way is very teacher intensive at first. Writing time is not always my favorite time of the day. It’s kind of like teaching reading, though. If you put the effort in at the beginning, they can work independently a lot more effectively later on.
You know what that means? WriteShop and IEW are both excellent choices for teaching writing.
I tell people it’s kind of like choosing between a Nikon and a Canon when you’re shopping for a camera. Nikon users will tell you that there’s no better camera on earth. Canon users will tell you the same thing about their cameras. The fact is, though, whether you buy a Canon or a Nikon, you’re going to get an excellent camera. It all boils down to a matter of personal preference.
If you like to have lesson plans and a specific scope and sequence laid out for you; you prefer a guide to teaching writing; and your kids prefer doing their own original writing, you’ll probably prefer WriteShop.
If you want to learn how to teach writing so that you can teach it to your kids, you prefer to coordinate your own writing lessons, and your kids would benefit from the modeling technique, you may prefer Institute for Excellence in writing.
We are currently using WriteShop because I like having the ease-of-use of the lesson plans and a predictable weekly schedule. My IEW materials are currently on loan (yes, I still refuse to sell them) to a friend in a unique situation. She moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine 10 years ago. She speaks English amazingly well with a beautiful accent. However, she was very unsure of her ability to teach her children to write well in English. Her family is a prime example of one who will benefit immensely from the modeling that IEW offers.
As for us, Brianna continued moving through WriteShop II primarily on her own last year. She wrote some amazing papers that showed me two things: 1) She can write well and 2) I can expect independence in writing from my younger two after I put in some time on the front end.
Writing took a backseat for Josh last year as we focus on his dyslexia treatment. I’ve decided to have him and Megan work through WriteShop I this year since it will be easier for me to teach them both at the same time. (Last year, Megan did WriteShop Junior, Josh started on WS I, and Brianna was working on WS II.)
So, WriteShop or IEW? Which should you choose? I really don’t think you can go wrong with either.