Writing is one of the most difficult things you will teach as a home school parent. Equal parts science and art, writing is as much about clear thinking as it is about grammar or creativity. Given the complexity of the subject and the difficulty of presenting it to children, it's challenging even for trained professionals to succeed in teaching the next generation of authors, let alone a lone home school parent who never learned the basics themselves. Many of the available options are overly complicated and time-consuming, or are amateurish at best.
Fortunately, trained professionals are available to teach you and your kids not only to write, but to write well. Andrew Pudewa's Institute for Excellence in Writing produces materials to train communicators for future generations, with the specific goal of teaching children to speak truth in a world increasingly devoid of it. Their core product, Teaching Writing: Structure & Style, is aimed directly at parents, equipping them to teach their children. Structure and Style for Students builds on that foundation, but features Pudewa teaching kids directly.
Structure and Style for Students has replaced the discontinued Student Writing Intensives. Originally presented as continuous lectures, the new version is a series of one-year courses featuring Pudewa teaching students in a classroom setting. In keeping with the nature of the course, the students in the classes look to be in an age range rather than all of a single grade level—there is a great deal of flexibility as to when and how you implement each course, but enough structure that you won't be lost or confused.
How Do These Work?
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) is the centerpiece of this program. It is designed for use by teachers—students certainly can watch the lectures as well, but Pudewa is teaching teachers how to teach writing. While you don't absolutely need Teaching Writing: Structure and Style to complete Structure and Style for Students, it does provide the philosophy and foundation behind all the instruction provided by IEW throughout their line of products. It is highly recommended that you purchase this product and complete it either before or during the first school year you use Structure and Style for Students. You only need to purchase Teaching Writing: Structure and Style once, as it is a one-time course for teachers (though you may very well want to reference it later).
There are three levels (A, B, and C) of Structure and Style for Students, each with two years' worth of lessons. Level A is for grades 3-5, Level B is for grades 6-8, and Level C is for grades 9-12. The numbering and lettering method of each level is a little confusing: Year 2 Level B, for instance, is the second year of Level B; why the year precedes the level designation is unclear. Each of the six courses (Year 1 and Year 2 for Level A; Year 1 and Year 2 for Level B; and, Year 1 and Year 2 for Level C) include 24 video lessons, each one divided into two parts.
In addition to the videos, there is a spiral bound teacher's manual for each course, and a three-ring student binder. There are also various portable walls (cardboard dividers with key ideas and information on them), access to downloads, and more. You can choose between DVDs or forever streaming (online access with no expiration).
Basic sets include the teacher's manual, student binder, videos, and portable walls specific to the level. Basic Plus sets include all of the above, with the appropriate student/teacher pack for Fix It! Grammar. Premier sets include everything in the Basic Plus set, as well as Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and A Word Write Now (a themed spiral bound thesaurus).
The teacher's manuals include lesson plans for each week, as well as teacher preparation assignments and literature suggestions for both the teacher and the student to read. The lesson plans are for a 5-day-per-week schedule, but there are suggestions in the beginning of the book for adapting for one, two, three, four, or five days a week, as well as how to use the program in a home school (as this is designed for use in a classroom setting). There are also additional teaching notes and homework assignments. The teacher notes are correlated to both Structure and Style for Students and TWSS.
Student binders include source texts (used in the lessons and assignments), composition checklists, model charts and outlines, and places to keep works in progress and finished compositions. They also include the lesson plans and goals so students can keep track of where they are. There are some colored pages throughout the binders: yellow pages note the beginning of a new unit; blue and pink pages contain special word lists curated by the student. All pages are consumable; IEW does not allow reproduction of pages. All material found in the student binders is present in the teacher's manuals with watermarks to prevent reproduction.
There are nine units in the IEW instructional cycle:
- Note Making and Outlines
- Writing from Notes
- Retelling Narrative Stories
- Summarizing a Reference
- Writing from Pictures
- Summarizing Multiple References
- Inventive Writing
- Formal Essay Models
- Formal Critique
Each level (1A/2A, 1B/2B, 1C/2C) covers all nine of these units in order, with the exception of 1A which only covers Units 1-7. This means students cover the same topics up to six times (depending on how many levels you complete), layering in more details and more difficult assignments as the series progresses. While you can start with any level as long as your student is up to speed, we do recommend moving through the series consecutively once begun. That is, you wouldn't want to start with 1B and then move to 1C before completing 2B, as students would miss out on important concepts directly linking 1B with 1C.
The scope and sequence is similar to that of Classical-style writing instruction–students first learn to gather information from a source, then to organize it, then to write their own content, then to develop their own ideas in essays. Again, the IEW approach is to train children to write by helping them to think clearly. Students are not expected to come up with ideas on their own right off the bat, but are gradually taught to do so as they learn how to organize their thoughts and apply the mechanics of good composition.
Initially, students will create their own outlines from the "source texts" included in the printed course material. Pudewa uses acronyms for exercises that are repeated frequently, like "KWOs" for Key Word Outlines, where students draw three big-idea words from each sentence of a paragraph. As students progress to creating their own compositions and essays, they learn not only how to include the important ideas, but also how to improve their writing stylistically, for instance by adding vibrant adjectives and adverbs. Unlike some programs, this one does not (mercifully!) turn this into a merely rote exercise.
Students watch the lectures and complete the exercises in real time (countdown timers appear onscreen when appropriate); time stamps are included in the student binder and teacher's manual. The teacher can either watch with the student, or beforehand, and they will need to grade the student's work. Assignments include short compositions, outline creation, etc. If you're familiar with TWSS, the Structure and Style for Students are similar to those found in the TWSS manual. Students could conceivably do everything on their own, but the philosophy of IEW is built around direct instruction, and even though Pudewa addresses students directly in the lectures, he isn't present in your living room and students will need discussion and assistance.
The focus of Structure and Style for Students is composition. There are other IEW products that cover the rest of the language arts spectrum such as grammar and spelling; some of the Fix It! Grammar texts are included in the premier sets for this series. The IEW Theme-Based Writing Lessons can be used in conjunction with Structure and Style for Students, but are not necessary. Pudewa includes many tidbits on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary throughout the lectures, but not enough to count toward credits for those topics.
Unlike the Student Writing Intensives, it is recommended that students complete all levels of Structure and Style for Students—this isn't a one and done like the program it replaces. While the repeated cycling through the nine units may sound like a drag, Pudewa's skills as an instructor make each new level more engaging than the one before it. As students continue to improve their skills, the more challenging content will keep even more reluctant writers interested. Pudewa's lame jokes but actually quite funny sense of humor add an extra level of fun that both students and parents will appreciate.
Our Honest Opinion:
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style has long been an excellent choice for writing instruction. One of its weak points, however, has always been the lack of thorough student-focused followup lessons. With Structure and Style for Students, this criticism no longer applies. While the Student Writing Intensives were helpful, the new series actually implements everything from the TWSS in a real classroom setting, taking all the guesswork out of the equation. It also takes some of the burden off of the teacher's shoulders, as lessons are not only fully scripted but fully delivered by Pudewa.
We believe teachers should take an active hand in all student instruction, for the sake of both the parents and the students. The folks at IEW feel the same way, but also understand the many demands on home school parents. With Structure and Style for Students, you can decide how much time you can afford to spend with your student and not worry that they won't get enough out of the program. Whether you take a very active hand or help from the background however, we do strongly encourage parents to work through the TWSS material before setting their students loose with Structure and Style for Students.
There are not many writing programs as thorough or as good as this one. With the release of this new series, almost no alternatives exist that are of the same quality and are also as easy to use. Andrew Pudewa himself says of these courses that they are "the best thing [IEW] has done," and we concur. This is definitely a huge step forward for Institute for Excellence in Writing, and for writing instruction in general, and we can recommend it without reservation.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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