Not that this blog is very indicative of it, but words-both written and spoken-have always been "my thing". I love to read, and I love to write. And I've always been good at both. But having a God given talent and being able to teach someone else how to DO it are two very different things, and while I have managed to instruct four children in how to read (leaning heavily on the wisdom and curriculum of those who have gone before me) writing is one skill whose components I could not seem to parlay into usable tidbits of instruction that produced any sort of meaningful result.
Oh sure, if you hang around in homeschool circles long enough, you are bound to hear someone mention IEW and how it changed their life...or at least their approach to teaching writing. But if you hang around in homeschool circles long enough, you also come to learn to be a bit skeptical because every family is different and what works great for some might not work at all for others. And soooo, despite all the glowing reviews I had heard from people I respected, I never looked into the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).
Boy, was THAT a mistake!
Let me tell you how I'm in love...
Let me tell you how IEW has transformed my children's writing...
And let me tell you how it worked not just for me, but for all my closest friends too...
Unlike writing curriculums that ask students to "write about this" or "write about that", IEW is a method of teaching writing by having children learn to rewrite things written by other people in their own words. The best illustration as to WHY this approach works comes from thinking of a student who wants to learn to play an instrument. You don't tell them, "That's great, but you are not allowed to play any song ever written my someone else. You must make up your own music." Instead, you give them pieces written by others so they can practice the mechanics and learn basic techniques which then allows them to become comfortable enough to "put their own spin on it" or maybe even write some original pieces. IEW functions much the same way.
No matter what age your student is, you start with a "Student Writing Intensive". There are 3 levels of Student Writing Intensives offered depending on the age of you student(s) as you begin the program. We reviewed Level A for grades 3-5. (Level B is for grades 6-8 and Level C is for grades 9-12.) These SWI packages are $99 and contain 4 DVDs featuring Andrew Pudewa teaching the lessons to a group of real students. Also included are a student binder with dividers and teacher notes, student handouts, and checklists. The teacher notes give detailed explanations of what is covered in each lesson, what handouts are needed, the handouts themselves, writing checklists, and instructions about how much of the DVD lesson to watch that week. There are 15 lessons and you can choose whether to cover them one a week or one every other week, so the SWI can take 15 or 30 weeks to cover depending on the pace you chose.
Our Level A Intensive covered Unit 1-Key Word Outlines, Unit 2- Summarizing from Notes, Unit 3- Story Sequence, Units 4 and 6- Report Writing, and Unit 7 Creative Writing. (Unit 5- Writing from Pictures is not covered in Level A, nor are Units 8- Essays and 9-Critiques.) In addition to the specific skills the Units work on, "dress-ups" are taught one at a time to enhance the quality of the writing. These techniques are things like using who or which clauses or using strong verbs, and really take the student writing from basic to excellent.
After you do whichever level SWI is grade appropriate, you move on to the Student Intensive Continuation Course (SICC). Level A covers grades 4-6, Level B grades 7-9, and Level C grades 10 and up. Once you start the SICCs, you continue from one level to another of them, never going back to the SWI even as you progress from one grade level to another.
The package we were fortunate enough to receive for review also contained Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS). This indispensable resource features 10 hours of DVD lessons for YOU the teacher. Mr. Pudewa walks you though the IEW method step by step and shows you how to teach this method across your curriculum. It also contained the Seminar Workbook with all the handouts from the seminar as well as suggestions for teaching multiple grade levels and sample lesson plans. And there is a bonus Tips and Tricks DVD.
Before I get to my usual assessment, let me give you a little more information. When my friends heard that I received IEW to review, they were all as excited as I was. In fact, we ended up with 4 extra students joining us for "writing class" each week. And when word got out of how much ALL the parents loved it and how well all the kids were doing, 4 more wanted to join in. For my personal experience though, I used this program with my 3 oldest students (13, 11, and 9) until my eldest went to a "building school" back in February. (His teacher reports to me how well he writes though ;-).) My 9 year old son and 11 year old daughter are the ones who have completed the SWI Level A, so it is mostly their experiences I will share.
The Pros: I love, love, LOVE this. Despite first impressions, Andrew Pudewa is an engaging speaker and clearly communicates each step of the process. I like that he does the initial teaching, and I just work with them on their follow up assignment. In our experience, the first lesson in each unit required quite a bit of oversight on my part to make sure they had done each of the steps correctly and had completed their check lists. After that, my 11 year old did well on her own, and my 9 year old generally wanted to dictate his story to me and have me suggest different "dress-ups" and letting him pick which one he wanted to use, or where he wanted to use it. But for both of them, neither of whom had ever done any purposeful writing at all before this, they were able to produce some really amazing work! The steps were easy to follow and plenty of practice is given. The program allows for easy customization according to your student's mastery of the concept. But even with as easy as the program is to use, I was VERY glad to have the TWSS. As my kids changed from unit to unit, they suddenly needed more instruction and guidance from me, and having the TWSS gave me a resource I could turn to so that I fully understood what they were to do and why. While we could have lived without it, it would have taken al LOT more work, and, I really was glad I didn't have to. Knowing that, I would encourage anyone looking at IEW to buy the package with the SWI/TWSS together.
The cons: I only have two. First, because the SWI DVDs were recorded during seminars with Mr. Pudewa actually teaching, they do not break into even-length lessons. Some DVD lessons are 13 minutes, and some are over 60. It would be nice if they were all roughly the same length, as my kids found the longer ones a little, well, long. I know I'm asking for the moon, but re-recording the DVDs with evenly timed lessons and maybe a bit more camera time on the white board as he is writing lists for the kids to copy would make the program almost perfect. The only other thing is the price. If ever a curriculum came closes to being worth what it costs, this one is it, but if you bought IEW Level A and went through the whole program, you could spend quite a bit when all is said and done. And I can tell you, once you give IEW a try, you will want to continue!
The bottom line: Have I mentioned I LOVE IEW??? The progress my kids have made is beyond description. In fact, I wanted to include some examples, but this post is already really long, so I will have to make them a separate post. I don't know what else I can say, except that in 3 years of reviewing products for the TOS Crew, this one is hands-down my favorite. I plan to continue using IEW, and that's the highest endorsement I can give.
To check out all of IEW's offerings, go HERE. Each level of the Student Writing Intensive is $99 (but remember you only need to do 1 SWI). The Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is $169 with all the paperwork or $145 for just the DVDs. Combined, the price for one level of SWI and the TWSS is $239. This is the package I received, and the one I would highly recommend. For pricing on the rest of the program or the other products they have available, be sure to follow the link above. To see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say (some of them reviewed other levels of the SWI) go HERE.
Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the SWI Level A and the TWSS for free in exchange for my honest review. Those DVDs and the accompanying paperwork were the only compensation I received for this review.