If you've spent much time looking at writing curricula for your kids, the idea of a program that is self-contained, concise and logical, well-written, capable of teaching your kids to write well on their own, and is easy to understand and implement probably seems like the worst kind of dream: one so perfect it must be real, but which you ultimately wake up from.
Steve and Shari Barrett's Put That in Writing is all those things, except the dream part. Perhaps their success lies in the fact that their approach is a practical one—the goal is to get middle and high school students writing well for college and career purposes, and nothing more; or perhaps it's due to the fact that the Barretts (primarily Shari) have been teaching writing to their own children and others in their hometown of Portland, OR since 1986.
Whatever the elements contributing to its success, Put That in Writing is a superlative writing course that will benefit students and please teachers and parents. Both levels are straightforward without cutting corners, and while the Barretts don't waste any time with superfluous exercises or cutesy illustrations, kids are likely to take to the course quite well as it will effectively remove the barriers of confusion and frustration that currently keep them from being good writers.
How Do These Work?
There are two levels in two non-consumable spiralbound volumes: Level One: Mastering the Paragraph and Level Two: Mastering the Essay. The Barretts suggest using the first level with 7th or 8th graders who are proficient in grammar (knowledge of which is essential to all writing success), while Level Two is best taught to high schoolers. Of course these are general guidelines, and precocious 5th and 6th graders can be taught from the first level, as well as high school students who need some remedial catch-up.
The firstbook covers one standard 36-week school year, while the second will take about a year and a half (advanced students can make it through in as few as 24 weeks, however). Because the information in Mastering the Essay builds on what is taught in Mastering the Paragraph, it is not recommended that you start with the second book without having worked through the first.
Parents and teachers are instructed to learn the material thoroughly before having their students read each unit. There are 36 units in Level One, each with five daily exercises; in Level Two there are 24 units with ten exercises apiece. Students review concepts repeatedly in the exercises, as well as composing original material and editing it. The Barretts emphasize editing as the only way students will recognize and eliminate mistakes, and so it takes a prominent place in this course.
Mastering the Paragraph (now in its second edition) begins by presenting the basics of sentence-writing. Students learn the difference between complex and compound sentences, the meaning of words like clause and coordinating conjunction, and how to add variety to their use of sentences in a paragraph. From there, kids are taught the purposes of writing, how to determine one's audience, picking a topic, etc.
After the preliminary lessons a three-week cycle begins, in which students write a paragraph(first week), submit theparagraph and practice timed-writing sessions (second week), and edit the graded paragraph before submitting it once more (third week). This process helps them make constant improvements, and keeps kids from becoming entrenched in the same mistakes over and over.
Students learn how to write a workable outline, conduct research, cite sources, and generally write nonfiction paragraphs as interestingly and well as possible. A variety of appendixes supply extra information, as well as grading/evaluation forms for teachers to analyse and assess each student's written work.
In Level Two: Mastering the Essay, the same general format is observed, only now students learn to write five-paragraph essays designed to instruct, convince, and inform. There are twice as many exercises per unit, largely because essays take more work and planning than paragraphs, but the three-unit cycle following the initial review and introductory units is maintained.
Special attention is paid to elements many writing courses all but ignore: format, documentation, critical thinking. The Barretts model each assignment on traditional/classical essay forms, so students will be able to classify and evaluate their own work (though teacher evaluation and grading is also required, appendixes for which are found in the back of the volume).
For both levels there are detailed keys with answers to all exercises; periodic quizzes and end-of-course exams are also included. This isn't a Classical writing course, so you won't find endless copywork or dictation exercises, just logically organized and presented instructions that take kids from the foundations of good composition to their execution in a practical context.
A special emphasis is placed on economy of expression: kids are taught to encapsulate thesis statements in a single sentence, and to put as much information as possible in as little space as possible without sacrificing clarity. The course is built on the same principle: you don't need a lot of extra stuff to teach the units, just willing students and paper and pencils.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is a fantastic program. It doesn't cover creative writing, but if you want students who can write capably and clearly (even under pressure), this is a great course. The clarity of the Barretts' instruction takes much of the burden off the teacher's shoulders, and you can be sure that at no time will you have to spend hours preparing lessons or grading papers. What you need is included in each text.
Again, students will need to have a firm grasp of grammar before starting, but they'll need no outside composition texts or supplements. Some use this as a supplement to more elaborate programs, but that seems like overkill to us. Put That in Writing is all you or your kids will need to make them the kind of writers able to be successful in college or work situations for the rest of their lives.
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.
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