Education Review: Institute for Excellence in Writing

I have to begin this review with one word: Wow! This program is simply fantastic and has worked beautifully for our family from the first time we used it. Last fall, I received Level B of the Student Writing Intensive plus Structure and Style Overview and Portable Wall from the Institute for Excellence in Writing for review.

This program is designed to teach students proper writing, which is such an important part of communicating effectively and professionally. I’ve enjoyed writing since I was quite young and am a professional writer today. Writing well and writing effectively is a daily part of my life. With email such a common form of communication today, I believe we all can agree that excellent writing skills convey an aura of professionalism and intelligence while inadequate writing skills typically give a sense that the writer is less intelligent or less educated.

With all of that in mind, I, of course, want to see each of my sons develop excellent writing skills. They’re relatively young yet and even my oldest is still working on his handwriting skills, but I’m thrilled to have discovered that the IEW course is perfectly compatible with boys whose handwriting isn’t so great!

Included in the complimentary package that I received from IEW:

Level B is written for students in sixth to eighth grades. Nick is ten and in the fifth grade, but I requested Level B for a couple of different reasons – 1) On the Crew, more people have younger children and Level A was being requested very quickly! 2) Nick reads on a high school level, and I assumed/hoped that a sixth to eighth grade writing course would be within his capabilities. (As it turns out, Level B has been a perfect fit for him!)

IEW Structure and Style Overview DVD

The Structure and Style Overview DVD explains the IEW method of teaching to parents. It lasts slightly less than 2 1/2 hours and gives parents a general overview of how IEW teaches writing and how the course works. A Teaching Writing DVD Seminar is available in a larger package, but I didn’t receive the seminar and don’t feel like I missed out on anything vitally important by not having it.

The lessons themselves are taught using the Student Writing Intensive DVD, which features Andrew Pudewa (author and founder of IEW) teaching each lesson to a group of students. Mr. Pudewa is a wonderful teacher and establishes a rapport with the students from his very first words.

Let me give a little background here – Nick does not like to write. Nick’s handwriting is a struggle and that makes him loathe to put a pen to a page for almost any reason. We’ve tried a few writing curricula in the past, and I’ve even tried some “writing encouragement exercises” (such as sitting at the table with Nick and having both of us write stories at the same time). Nothing has ever sparked an interest in him or changed his opinion that writing is best reserved for his 21st birthday.

When we first sat down to watch lesson 1 of the Student Writing Intensive, I was amazed (and very pleased!) at how engaged Nick was. He watched every minute of the video, commented on what was said, and – this is the best part – laughed at all of Mr. Pudewa’s little jokes. Later that day, he said to me, “I liked that DVD. That guy’s funny.” (High praise for a writing class, indeed!)

The instruction is broken down into such simple chunks that it has never seemed overwhelming to Nick. He’s progressed through the lessons and completed the writing exercises confidently at each stage. There’s been absolutely no frustration, no balking at doing the lessons, no complaining. (Now you can understand why I started this review with, “Wow!”)

Nick and I watch the DVD together (along with James and Robert too, most of the time) and pause it occasionally to give Nick time to answer Mr. Pudewa’s questions before the students on the video answer. For example, the students might be asked to name adverbs or descriptive nouns or verbs. I like to give him a chance to think of these words on his own instead of getting his ideas from the kids on the video.

Handouts

Each lesson on the DVD uses a piece of writing that is included in the handouts folder. As each piece is mentioned on the DVD, I find it in the folder and give it to Nick so he can read it along with Mr. Pudewa. Once the lesson is over, he can place the sheet in a special section of the student notebook.

The written pieces give examples of excellent writing to the students and also provide a starting place for them to create their own written work. For example, the first lesson teaches how to create a “keyword outline.” The students select keywords from each sentence in a short essay and then use those keywords to create their own essays. Mr. Pudewa plainly explains how students can “enliven” their writing through the use of adverbs (-ly words), descriptive nouns, verbs that evoke feeling, and by combining and rearranging sentences with who/which clauses and other writing techniques.

I have been incredibly pleased at the easy-to-understand way that Mr. Pudewa explains all of these writing techniques. Not once has Nick struggled to understand what is being taught.

Other handouts include a form for listing “banned verbs,” -ly words, prepositions, and other items to which students can refer for ideas as they write. The Portable Wall also gives students quick access to reminders about the techniques they’ve learned in each lesson.

The instructions suggest watching a lesson and then taking a few days or a week to practice the exercise(s) taught before watching another lesson. According to the IEW website, the Student Writing Intensive will take a student 15-30 weeks depending on his individual pace. We’ve taken as much as two weeks between lessons since we tend to do everything more slowly than is recommended. I don’t mind at all that it may take Nick two years to get through the material, especially since I started him a little younger than is recommended.

As I’ve said, Nick has progressed through the Student Writing Intensive with complete confidence, and I’ve seen his understanding of the English language and the nuances of expression develop with each lesson. I honestly have no complaints about this program! It has fit wonderfully with our relaxed style of homeschooling since we can watch the DVD together and then practice the exercises every few days over the next week or two.

The IEW Student Writing Intensive is available for $99 and includes the four DVDs, student notebook, and handouts. If you would like to use the program with multiple students, an additional student notebook and handouts can be purchased for $18. The handouts can also be purchased in e-book format for $10.

The Teaching Writing Seminar and Student Writing Intensive may be purchased together for $239. Level A is designed for 3rd to 5th graders, Level B for 6th to 8th graders, and Level C for 9th to 12th grade or adults. The pricing is the same for all three levels.

Thank you to the Institute for Excellence in Writing and The Old Schoolhouse Crew for sponsoring this review.

© 2011 – 2013, Cindy. All rights reserved.

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