For some reason, writing seems to be a generally feared (even hated) subject. Kids would rather do what they're good at (like math or science) or follow assignments with strict guidelines than write a paper, which requires knowledge of grammar, creativity, clear thinking, and organizational skills. Sharon Watson wrote Jump In to turn reluctant writers into capable writers who can turn a blank page into an interesting essay.
How Does This Work?
Jump In was designed for middle school students, though reluctant or poor high school writers can also benefit from the program. This is a writing program—you will need to teach grammar separately. There are two tracks to the course: the 10-Minute Writing Plunges which are included in the teacher manual, and the main coursework covered in the consumable student text. The author advises against using both tracks simultaneously, though you can intersperse the Writing Plunges as breaks between chapters.
The Writing Plunges are a series of suggested writing prompts for a normal 36-week school year; for each week there are four prompts. Teachers read the prompts aloud, and students write for 10 minutes. These compositions are ungraded and unassessed, designed to help students become comfortable with simply getting words on the page. The topics promote creativity, and because they are ungraded, take the fear out of many students afraid their compositions will sound stupid.
The main course (contained in the colorful consumable student text) is an incremental program in which students learn to write a variety of compositional forms, including persuasive pieces, narrative, and description. Each chapter begins with an introduction, and initial exercise problems can be answered with single words. As the chapter progresses, students gradually erect a written framework that becomes the basis for the final written assignment. For each type of composition there is a different procedure, so kids won't get bored doing the same thing every time.
Assignments are designed to keep students' interest. A lot of attention is paid to helping kids come up with topics that will be interesting both to them and to their readers. There are several examples of compositions throughout each chapter that illustrate the type of writing being learned; all of them are age-appropriate and the topics are usually fun.
While the lessons in the student text are self-explanatory, this isn't a completely student-directed course. Parents will need to explain some things (there is support material in the teacher manual), and they will need to evaluate and grade student compositions. Extensive checklists are included in the teacher manual to guide parents through the evaluation process; parents assign a score to each item on the checklist, and the cumulative score is the paper's final grade.
Our Honest Opinion:
This course was designed specifically to help reluctant or struggling writers, though students who like to write will also benefit. The exercises and assignments are fun and interesting, and the text is clear. You will want to choose a high school composition course that focuses more on mechanics and technical skills if you want your kids to have a well-rounded writing education, but this one will certainly go a long way toward warming them to the subject.
Be aware that this doesn't focus on the technical side of writing (though sentence and paragraph construction are addressed). The emphasis is the often very difficult work of choosing a broad topic, narrowing it to a manageable size, and outlining the essay to greatly reduce the frustration and confusion that often accompany composition assignments. This is probably the best course we offer for the creative aspect of writing (for middle school and early high school), and it could work well side-by-side with a more formally-oriented composition course.
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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