I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review two products from the Institute for Excellence in Writing:
Teaching Writing With Structure and Style ($169.00) is a 10-hour teacher seminar that includes:
- 10 DVDs that teach nine structural models and many stylistic techniques, offer tips and tricks for using the program, and videos of actual student workshops at 3 different grade levels.
- The TWSS Seminar Workbook, which serves as the syllabus for the seminar and contains charts, word lists, sample lesson plans, and more!
The Student Writing Intensive, Level B ($109.00) is a student writing program for Grades 6-8, and includes:
• Structure & Style Overview DVD for parents and teachers
• Four instructional DVDs for the student
• Three-ring binder with dividers
• Student packet containing scope & sequence, teacher’s notes, and student handouts for one student (about 100 pages in all)
This is a large program and a lot of material! I began by watching the first two Teaching Writing With Structure and Style DVD’s before I began working with Emily. I then watched the rest of the series over the next few weeks. Although Emily didn’t get to the material beyond the first 3 DVD’s, watching the entire course gave me a good overview of the entire program. Some of the material will be covered later in the course and some is not taught at all in the Level B Student Writing Intensive.
As stated earlier, the first 6 DVD’s of the course cover a writing seminar taught by Andrew Pudewa. He teaches the material to the adults in his class as he would teach children, having them participate in making outlines and stylizing sentences as he writes on his whiteboard. Occasionally he gives a writing assignment to the class or the DVD viewer that is completed before the seminar continues. The pace is, of course, much faster than it would be for children or teens in order to provide a complete course in a short amount of time.
The “structure” part of the course teaches:
- note taking/outlining
- summarizing from notes
- narrative stories
- creative writing
The “style part of the course teaches ways to make sentences and paragraphs more complex and interesting to read and teaches these topics and techniques:
- using strong verbs
- who/which and because clauses
- quality adjectives
- varied ways to open sentences
- many other ways to make sentence more unique or attention-grabbing
The Teaching Writing With Structure and Style prepares teachers to teach writing, step by step. The accompanying Seminar Workbook contains checklists, handouts for students, paragraphs to use for re-writing, and lesson plans as well as an outline and notes for the DVD content. One could teach the course with just this resource.
The Student Writing Intensive is for the student. The 4 DVD’s have lessons, again taught by Andrew Pudewa, for the student to watch. Specific lesson plans are provided in the manual that break up each lesson into daily assignments.
The course can be covered in either 15 or 30 weeks, depending on how much the student covers each day. We have been using the 15 week schedule, and finding it quite doable. Our schedule has typically been:
- Day 1 Watch the DVD lesson, write an outline (this may have been already done while the lesson is watched), write a first draft.
- Day 2 Revise the paragraph. Discuss it with me. Rewrite.
- Day 3 Write another outline and make a first draft from it.
- Day 4 Revise and Recopy.
- Some days vary and may require writing catching titles or writing paragraphs that are part of longer writing projects.
Each of the early lessons follows the same “outline, write, revise” procedure while teaching and requiring the use of new stylistic techniques, so the student’s writing will become better and more sophisticated with each lesson.
A more reluctant writer would probably prefer to use the 30 week schedule, but the more accelerated pace has worked well for us.
Emily LOVES this course. She already enjoys writing, so that helps. Her favorite days are the ones when she watches the DVD because “Mr. Pudewa is funny.” I think it is helpful for her to see the interaction between him and students as they call out answers and he responds or writes the student suggestions on the board. That group interaction is something she misses out on as a solo homeschooler and hearing other kids’ input and ideas is a bit different from just hearing Mom’s.
I liked that I was free to substitute any passage for rewriting for the one that was assigned. Some days, I picked one from another book that we were reading in order to reinforce another subject.
Although I could have taught the course using just Teaching Writing With Structure and Style, the day-by-day lesson plans in the Student Writing Intensive simplified the process. All I had to do each day was to open the teacher’s notes for exact instructions.
This course starts by developing style through outlining, then rewriting other authors’ works. This takes the pressure off students who have trouble coming up with content to write about. The techniques taught to improve writing style should then carry over to the student’s original works. However, if you want your student to be writing original essays and stories, you won’t find that type of lesson early in the program. Later lessons do teach specific guidelines for outlining and writing stories and essays.
I am finding that rewriting a passage helps my student understand and retain the information better, which is ideal for reinforcing history or science lessons.
Each paragraph or story that is written must follow a certain structure and include certain components, such as strong verbs, who/which clause, ‘ly word, and because clauses using a checklist. This gives students who typically write in simple sentences a way to “dress up” their writing. On the other hand, it makes every paragraph very similar and formulaic. I felt that the outline technique taught made Emily’s sentences sound more disconnected from each other than in her other writing, instead of a smooth flow from one idea to another. I think this is a result of the sentence by sentence outlining technique.
I think that Excellence in Writing’s Teaching Writing With Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive, Level B is a good solid course for a reluctant writer and beneficial for any writer. Even a good writer will benefit from paying conscious attention to the inclusion of stronger verbs and varying sentence structure within a paragraph. The instruction of the various structural styles will help a student learn to produce well organized and interesting works.