How is a child who hasn't been taught how to construct a sentence supposed to write a creative paper on his own? This is the question Andrew Pudewa tries to answer in Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. Pudewa and other educators developed the instructional method of the course based on an older style and structure text (Blended Structure and Style in Composition, by James B. Webster), trimming the material to a manageable size. The result is a comprehensive composition course for grades 2-10, with the primary materials addressed to the parent or instructor, rather than to the student.
The core of the program is a 12-DVD set and 3-ring binder syllabus. The DVDs contain a series of lectures by Pudewa in which he describes his philosophy of writing instruction, as well as demonstrating how to implement the curriculum. The syllabus includes some lesson plans, an overview of the course, and exercise pages to be reproduced. The syllabus is thoroughly explained in the DVDs and some of the exercises are worked through.
There are nine very flexible units. They can be presented one year at a time, or all nine units can be taught in a single year, depending on the age and ability of the student. Because of the nature of the course, it is easily adaptable to large groups; average students will have plenty to do with the basic material, while there is also enough to challenge advanced students.
Each unit covers an aspect either of essay writing or creative writing. The first two discuss note making and outlining, and summarizing from notes. These two units must be taught first since all the rest are built on them. Units switch between essay writing and creative writing instruction so students aren't getting all of one type at the same time. Each unit builds on the one before it, so they should be taught in order. If you're moving an older student to IEW from another program you should still guide them through the first units, though you can move very quickly if need be.
Students begin by learning how to distill the most important and meaningful elements out of individual sentences and putting them down in notes. These notes are then arranged in outlines organized according to topic. Then the student is taught to clearly summarize the material from these notes and outlines. From there, he learns to get more information from longer sources with less notes, how to organize information and thoughts, how to come up with original material to write about, etc. The units on essay writing teach kids how to construct sentences and paragraphs, how to write a good introduction and conclusion, and how to generate ideas to write about. The final unit deals with literary critique (basically an elaborate book report).
The strength of this course is its insistence that students learn how to write not simply by copying examples of good writing, but by imitating good writing. While they aren't called upon for wholly original work until later in the course, the method of complete re-statement by select note making and outlining follwed by re-writing helps students learn to express thoughts and ideas in words without forcing them to do all the work themselves. Since one of the most important elements of learning to write well is learning to think well, this method provides a workable model for the organization and clear expression of ideas.
The DVD lectures are oriented to describing the instructional philosophy behind the program. While some kids will want to watch with you, most won't; this is fine, since they aren't intended to substitute for actual teaching time. You really do need to watch all the lectures before you start teaching, so you may want to plan a few days for it so you don't get burned out.
This is a very teacher-intensive program. While the syllabus offers some ideas for lessons, nothing is scripted and you will have to find interesting passages on your own to serve as models for most of the assignments. IEW does offer other books to fill this gap, as does Logos School (Writing Trails and Imitation in Writing). There are also several supplementary texts for advanced writers to be used either in conjunction with the last units of the course, or by themselves once the course has been completed.
This curriculum is unique in that it deals specifically with style and not just the technical aspects of good writing. A stylistic checklist is provided, and students are required to use elements from the list in their compositions, adding more elements more times as the complexity of the compositions increases.
Really good writing programs are hard to find. A lot of them take the approach of simply assigning creative work without first providing any guidance as to the mechanics of writing. Teaching Writing: Structure and Style avoids assigning original work until students have mastered the craft of good writing. It also teaches both teachers and students what to look for in written work, and how to replicate those elements in their own writing. This isn't a particularly "fun" program, but if you want your child to improve his writing skills or to develop writing them in the first place, this is an excellent place to start.
Highly flexible, Teaching Writing can easily be adapted to fit a number of skill levels (Pudewa stresses its value as a program for a whole classroom), and is easy to switch to or from another curriculum. Chances are many students will have mastered the techniques and skills after a few years of use, and you can advance them to higher levels of writing or use the advanced writing materials offered by IEW. Since writing is such a vital part of a good education, and since this is a shining star in an otherwise pretty barren landscape of writing courses available to homeschoolers, we strongly urge you to take a look at this one before writing it off as too much work.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.