How can a child who can't construct a sentence write a creative paper on his own? This is the question Andrew Pudewa answers in Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. Pudewa and other educators developed the instructional method of the course based on an older text (Blended Structure and Style in Composition by James B. Webster), trimming the material to a manageable size. The result is a complete composition course for grades 3-12. The primary materials are addressed to the parent or instructor rather than to the student.
How Does This Work?
The core of the program is a 12-DVD set and 3-ring binder syllabus. The DVDs contain lectures in which Pudewa describes his philosophy of writing instruction and shows how to implement the curriculum. The syllabus includes some lesson plans, an overview of the course, and reproducible exercise pages. The syllabus is thoroughly explained in the DVDs and some of the exercises are worked through.
There are nine very flexible units. Units can be presented one year at a time, or all nine units can be taught in a single year, depending on a student's age and ability. The nature of the course makes it easily adaptable to large groups—average students will keep busy with the basic material, while advanced students will also be challenged.
Each unit covers an aspect of essay or creative writing. The first two discuss note making, outlining, and summarizing from notes. These two units must be taught first since the rest are built on them. Units switch between essay writing and creative writing instruction so students can enjoy some variety. Each unit builds on the previous one, so they should be taught in order. Older students beginning IEW after another program still need a teacher to guide them through the first units, though progress can be swift if need be.
Students first learn to distill the crucial elements from individual sentences before turning them into notes. These notes are then arranged in outlines organized by topic. Students are then taught to summarize the material from these notes and outlines. From there, she learns to distill more information from longer sources with fewer notes, how to organize information and thoughts, how to develop original material to write about, etc. The units on essay writing teach kids to construct sentences and paragraphs, write a good introduction and conclusion, and generate ideas. The final unit covers literary critique (basically an elaborate book report).
The authors argue that students learn to write by imitating, not simply copying, good writing. Students aren't expected to produce original work until later in the course. The method of restatement through note making, outlining, and rewriting teaches students to express ideas in words without having to select a topic or do research. Since learning to write well is inseparable from learning to think well, this method helps students learn to organize and clearly express their ideas.
Pudewa uses the DVD lectures to describe the instructional philosophy of the program. Some kids may want to watch them with their parent or teacher, but most probably will not. Students don't need to watch the lectures, they aren't meant to substitute for actual teaching time. You do need to watch all the lectures before you start teaching, so you may want to plan a few days for doing so.
Teaching Writing: Structure & Style is very teacher-intensive. While the syllabus offers limited lesson ideas, nothing is scripted and teachers must find model passages on their own for most assignments. IEW does offer books to fill this gap (Theme-Based Writing Lessons), as does Logos School (Writing Trails and Imitation in Writing). There are also many supplementary texts for advanced writers to use with the last units of the course, or by themselves once the course is 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 frequently as the complexity of the compositions increases.
Our Honest Opinion:
Excellent writing programs are hard to find. Many courses assign creative work without teaching the mechanics of writing.Teaching Writing: Structure and Style doesn't assign original work until students master the craft of good writing. It also shows teachers and students how to evaluate written work, and how to replicate good elements in their own writing. This isn't a particularly "fun" program, but if you want a child with top-notch writing skills, this is a great place to start.
Highly flexible, Teaching Writing is easily adapted for many skill levels (Pudewa stresses its value as a classroom program), and is easy to switch to from another curriculum. Many students will master the techniques and skills after a few years of use, and you can advance them to higher levels of writing or use the IEW advanced writing materials. Since writing is vital to education, and since this is a bright star in an often dark landscape of home school writing courses, we strongly suggest you 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 who likes 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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