This fall, my second child will officially enter high school, but since her older brother is academically challenged, she will be the first one in our family to really blaze the full high school trail. That has left me scrambling to figure out exactly what this next year is going to look like for her. So of course, when the opportunity to review a new high school writing curriculum came along, you know it piqued my interest.
Actually, if I'm truthful, I had a bit of a dilemma. You see, this new writing curriculum is actually part of a series called Writing with Sharon Watson, and she has a middle school level book (Jump In) and a Writing Fiction in High School course as well.
It was a tough decision! I felt like my daughter's writing abilities (or lack thereof) could be equally well served by the middle school level, and then my son could use it too. But wanting her to feel like she was really "moving up" in the world, I decided to go for it with the high school level. And since she tends easily toward writing fiction, I knew nonfiction was where she needed work. Because Sharon reaffirms that her course is do-able even by students with minimal writing skills, I felt like my daughter should be fine in the high school book.
The Power in Your Hands comes with a Teacher's Guide ($14.98) and a Student Edition ($39.98). Generally, I'm not a big "Teacher's Guide" sort of gal, but I think this one is worth it. Not only does it clearly give examples of what A-F grade papers look like, it gives detailed criteria for grading each type of paper assigned in the course, bullet points of all the student edition topics chapter by chapter, the answers to questions the students are asked in their book, and most handily, guided writing prompts for four days a week for an entire school year. It's very handy.
The student book contains over 100 daily lessons, resulting in students writing over 22 essays and reports. Some of the styles of writing they will learn include persuasive essays, compare-and-contrast essays, a biography, a literary analysis, a research paper with MLA documentation, and an SAT essay, just to name a few. Along the way, they also learn proofreading marks (as a student, I honestly NEVER knew what those squiggles my teachers made on my papers meant) and to critique and grade their own work.
The pros: The student book is really designed to be worked through independently, and each lesson is clearly "ended" with either a dark line across the page
or the end of the actual chapter. The parts of the lessons that you read are short, and written in a conversational manner. On the Writing With Sharon Watson website, they list their beliefs. One is that the student is more important than the material in the textbook. They say, "We create humorous, informative, practical, and conversational courses that respect students and allow them to use a number of their learning styles." I think this is one of the pros as well-they have managed to accomplish this. And to accomplish it in a curriculum that teaches, and lets me just facilitate all without having to outsource writing at the expense of my time and gas, and the cost of the class itself.
The cons: Have you ever totally LOVED something as a parent, but not had it click with your child? Well, that happened to us with this. I think the problem was twofold. First, we received this at the very end of our school year, so she had to continue on for a bit of summer school to give it a try, and that seemed to turn my super-sweet 14 year old against it on principle alone. She also though may really be a bit too young for it. The first brainstorming exercise was about whether teens should have credit cards or not. She had no opinion. She doesn't have a credit card. She doesn't know anyone who has one. She doesn't see us use a credit card. She had no real life experience to draw any sort of opinion from on that subject. It's easy enough to pick another topic, I know, but given that that was right off the bat, it didn't help her opinion at all. I also noticed a later lesson that we did not get to had an issue with even graver concerns. This lesson is on writing a moral/ethical appeal letter. The sample letter given to the students to analyze involves critique of a company for giving money to an organization that "endorses and glorifies lesbianism, the abortion of innocent babies, and an immoral lifestyle." Now, at this point I may take some criticism for living under a rock, but at my daughter's tender age of 14, I haven't raised her to be a political activist, nor have do we have ANY deep passionate conversations about abortion or lesbianism (although she knows they are both wrong in God's eyes, but that we are called to LOVE everyone as all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). I can't image she would write an article like the sample, and I'm not comfortable with her using it as a critique right now (which is how it is offered). I feel like there must have been a better sample to use, but I am open to the idea that in a few years, when my daughter is older, I might feel differently.
The bottom line: I really like The Power in Your Hands. I do. My daughter didn't. And I didn't love the one lesson. I think we will put it on hold for now. Not just for the summer, but until 10th grade. I think by then I can use it with both she and her brother together, and there will be some healthy competition, as well as a bit of fresh air and a fresh start. In my house, with the multitude of review products we review, one of the highest complements I can pay something is to keep it on my shelves and actually USE it after the review period is over, so that should tell you that I think pretty highly of this, if I'm willing to give it shelf space for a year until we can use it again!
You can buy The Power in Your Hands from Writing With Sharon Watson for $39.98 (student) and $14.98 (teacher). She also has Jump In, A Workbook for Reluctant and Eager Writers (for Middle School) for $30 (student) and $10 (teacher), and Writing Fiction in High School $25.05 (student) and $9.95 (teacher). Click though here to see what other writers from Home&School Mosaics thought.