Teaching writing can seem a bit like cleaning the septic tank—you know it's important and has to be done, but you'd really rather have someone else do it. If you do get around to it yourself, it's a distasteful chore that drags on much longer than it ought to.
Marcia Somerville's Writing Aids doesn't help you hire a tutor, but it does equip parents with many of the tools necessary for teaching their kids to write well and clearly. Designed to be used with the Tapestry of Grace curriculum, the book can also be used on its own or with another curriculum.
The best part? All you need for grades 1-12 is this book and CD-ROM. If you intend to use Writing Aids without Tapestry of Grace you'll probably need to supplement (you'll definitely need to cover grammar separately), but you'll still have much of what you need in this program.
How Does This Work?
Writing Aids is written to parents. The book is non-consumable; it can be used for all kids in your family throughout their homeschool careers. Student handouts can be printed from PDF files on the CD-ROM; otherwise, they'll be working on notebook paper or typing.
The authors reiterate often that you don't need to implement Tapestry of Grace to use this book. If you are a Tapestry of Grace user, however, things will be easier as you'll have ready-made assignments to give your kids.Writing Aids works with both the Classic and the Redesigned versions of Tapestry of Grace.
Instructions on how to use the book are found in the Introduction. There's a scope and sequence, a highly flexible weekly schedule, a description of each feature of the program, and help for finding writing assignments in the Tapestry of Grace teacher books. There's also a discussion on teaching writing across grade-levels.
This attention to grade-level compatibility is one of the most attractive features of Writing Aids. Because the program is intended for grades 1-12, the authors have made sure that kids in different levels are learning more or less the same types of writing at the same time, reducing the parent/teacher's prep time significantly.
The book is organized alphabetically by type of writing activity, with appropriate grade levels identified in the right corner of the first page of the section. Topics include analytical essays, character sketches, editorials, self-proofing, senior thesis, transition words and sentences, and much, much more.
Parents guide their students through prewriting exercises, the significance and purpose of the various types of writing, how to organize their papers, etc. For every teacher section in the book there's a printout on the CD-ROM for students called "Talking Points" which kids keep in a notebook and refer to during the instruction period and while completing their assignments.
Grading Strategies guide parents through the often difficult waters of evaluating students's work. The authors of Writing Aids adhere to an A-F grading system, but they also include rubrics and checklists for looking at the work itself, so if you aren't into letter grades you can still determine the quality of your children's papers.
On the CD-ROM are a number of blank student supplement pages, ranging from Venn diagrams, story maps, characterization grids, various outline forms, and more. In the back of the book, these same supplements are filled-in, providing examples for students to study. There are also examples of student writing on the Tapestry of Grace website.
If you aren't using Tapestry of Grace you'll need to develop your own assignments, or at least their content. The program uses whichever historic era kids are studying at the time for content, but you can use whatever you want. This can be quite difficult, as you'll have no way to compare what you come up with against the assignments provided by Tapestry of Grace.
The title Writing Aids admirably points to the fact that this isn't so much of a full-orbed writing curriculum, and is instead more of a guide and help for shaping students's writing skills. For instance, the section on analytical essays is less than four pages long. Students will definitely grow in their writing abilities, but there will still be much room for improvement.
Our Honest Opinion
The fact that this is a one-volume course for all grades and all students makes it very attractive on a variety of levels. All home school parents, especially those with multiple children, are always looking for ways to streamline school time and schedules, and a course like this is quite attractive.
As far as it goes, it's a good one, but this is more true if you're planning on using it with theT apestry of Grace program. Those wanting to use Writing Aids independently of its parent course will probably find themselves spending a lot more time and effort into finding and planning assignments than they would if they just used grade-specific courses.
The writers (Marcia Somerville, Dana Caywood, Beth Kelley) tend toward verbosity, making reading through the parent pages something of a chore at times. There also isn't any organization to the lessons except alphabetical, which isn't always helpful as many of the writing topics are pretty obscure (who'd think to look for "Pet Peeve Essays"?).
If you're using Tapestry of Grace, buy this book. It adds a much-needed element to your kids's education. But if you aren't using the main program, we'd encourage you to look for another writing curriculum. Without much direct information on sentence/paragraph construction, and with relatively short lessons on important aspects of writing, Writing Aids isn't strong enough on its own.
For those wanting a good single-volume writing curriculum for all ages, we'd recommend looking at Institute for Excellence in Writing's Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. It's more expensive and requires a fair amount of teacher prep, but it's much more thorough without being overwhelming.
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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