True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.
~Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”
The quote above really speaks to me as an old English major and a homeschool mom who respects the classical course of study. I appreciate the idea of writing as an art form. I do daydream about my children, my marvelous students thoughtfully creating coherent essays and well-researched papers.
I do. I actually daydream about good research papers.
But, how can you get there?
That was a question I mused over the past few years as I began teaching my oldest. In this student, I have a super creative and smart kid, but one who has a writing and spelling disability and years of frustration with writing in general. In fact, one reason I began homeschooling this son was because he had so much trouble getting thoughts onto paper, and between adhd and learning disability issues, he was not doing well in upper level courses. Ultimately it made sense that while he was quite intelligent, he had not learned some important basics in communicating through written medium.
So, one way I tried to work with him was to try to make writing fun. I studied the Charlotte Mason theories and shared interesting and exciting topics and we also just read as much as possible. I used some curricula to shore up his vocabulary and spelling abilities. We tried a few grammar curricula and more advanced curricula which included research papers. So far, I had a kid who could narrate beautifully, but would not/could not write me a decent paragraph.
Enter Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW).
When I heard it was possible to review a writing program with IEW, I was very curious. I had seen others very excited about the program, once, at a homeschool conference, but I knew very little about it and frankly, I thought it looked costly and complicated. Too complicated for our writing needs.
I really was very wrong.
- Teaching Writing: Structure & Style (TWSS) The main writing program; this teaches you how to teach writing!
- Student Writing Intensive Level C, Grades 9-12 (SWI) With this, Andrew Pudewa teaches your student while you are learning the Structure & Style method.
I also got a Portable Wall- a single-pocket folder with an extra page, creating a tri-fold wall packed with all the Unit Models, several word lists including prepositions, substitutes for “said,” and more.
On the website, this combination package is described as:
“The best way to begin with Excellence in Writing. It includes Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS), Tips and Tricks DVD and Student Writing Intensive (SWI). Comes with 2 sets of DVDs (one for the teacher, one for the student), TWSS Seminar Workbook, and Student Notebook with handouts and daily lesson suggestions.”
The cost for this combo is $239. We received many pieces, all so organized.
Immediately, I was impressed with the quality of the materials. Binders with printed section dividers, DVDs in sturdy and well labeled cases with hours of teaching, complete lessons plans, scope and sequence information. They even include details on exactly how to format your binders and tips on how to set up the lessons.
Honestly, the package kind of shocked me it was so well done. Unfortunately, it did also frighten me.
I felt like an idiot trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the pieces. And, I was having a crummy day that day.
So, I handed Nick his student portion (the SWI) and said, “I know you hate to write. But this is supposed to help. Please figure out what we need to do and then we’ll meet up and work on this.” I know, not the best teaching strategy. But, my son did take the SWI and begin watching the disks. While I was working on other things with his little sister, he set up his binder and began to complete the assignments that he was given by Andrew Padewa through the DVD lessons.
My TWSS sat on my desk for “when I had time” which, incidentally, I never do have, just fyi.
So ironically, I did what Nick needed. The SWI is designed to engage the student and break through “reluctance in writing” while the teacher (me) is learning the actual program through the TWSS.
I realized quickly that Nick was not complaining about the course and was watching the Dvds and working through lessons. That got me curious that he was able to work alone with confidence and no frustration.
For the first time ever, this 16 year old began to ask to do his written English. He set himself up with the Dvds on the xbox in the playroom so he could and sit on the couch and watch Padewa on the television and complete his work.
I was super shocked. This is not my self-motivating child. I think, for the first time ever, he saw a reason to write for himself—not because a parent or teacher wanted him to, but because it made sense to him and good writing seemed within his grasp.
So, what exact materials did Nick have? Nick’s SWI level C included:
• Four DVDs—He could just pop these in and learn directly from Andrew Padewa
• A binder with dividers
• A packet with the teacher’s notes, handouts and checklists (about 100 pages in all)—these handouts include all the scope and sequence, suggestions for how to structure class time, handouts for each lesson, source texts, checklists and detailed teacher notes.
The entire course includes fifteen lessons. Each lesson block can take a few weeks to complete, depending on your speed, so this program can be used for over a semester (15-30 weeks).
And what exactly was he learning about writing?
Well, he was learning the main concepts of the TWSS program and diving right into working with the models created by Padewa, which are centered around the classical model of being given good writing and good information and then being asked, through specific, detailed exercises and practice, to examine and eventually recreate the ideal—whether that be a paragraph, an essay, a story.
So while Nick’s SWI follows the model of the TWSS, it delves into the teeny details, teaching the child with beginning steps like how to use a keyword outline, how to make sentences more attractive and interesting, how to make sure your paragraph includes a good title and topic sentence. Each step builds upon the one before.
Now, from what I understand, it is possible to just use the SWI, but then, you are really left just copying some lessons without the “big picture” I would think.
The TWSS (My set of curricula and Dvds) is the entire “Big Picture” so I sucked it up and began to check out all the details. My set includes the 10 hour seminar that is the backbone of the TWSS program. Through videos, Padewa teaches me how and why to teach writing. And, I get all kinds of helps as well: binders of sample lesson plans and “implementation schedules”, source texts, checklists, all kinds of helps.
The Dvds include the following “how” to write through nine units:
- Units 1-2 Note Making and Summarizing through Notes
- Unit 3-Summarizing Narratives Stories and Dress-Ups
- Unit 4-Summarizing References & Writing Reports
- Unit 5- Advanced Dress-Ups, Decorations and Triples, Writing from Pictures
- Unit 6- Writing Reports from Multiple Sources (extension of Unit 4)
- Unit 7-Creative Writing with Structure
- Unit 8-Essays: Basic, Extended and Super (extension of Units 4 and 6)
- Unit 9-Critiques, Conclusion
- Student Writing Workshop, Elementary Level
- Student Writing Workshop, Intermediate Level
- Student Writing Workshop, High School Level
Overall I really like what I see as the core of Padewas teaching: Start small with good structure and model good writers and build upon each little piece of the writing puzzle so you get confidence, accuracy and you know what to do next.
So what am I going to do next?
Well, as this can be used for years, with multiple children, I will be working through the SWI with Nick, while watching my Dvd seminar and planning for next year. He will be a junior in high school, so we have to get this down. From looking around on the website, I think I will try to use the Elegant Essay Writing lessons and the SWICC with Nicholas. I will have to use another grammar program and spelling, as those are not really included in the writing program. I have a grammar program in mind. As a plus, Nick’s grammar and spelling are improving anyway through using many source texts in the writing work.
On the other hand, I also will be teaching my six year old and I am excited to begin the same program with her as I already use many classical tools with her, this curriculum will fit right in and I will be able to get her up and running from the beginning. (Less pressure!)
I hope this tells you a bit about this program. There is so much to cover, I’m having trouble consolidating it all. Honestly, if you are interested in this curriculum, I strongly recommend going to the website and viewing some of Padewas videos that explain the program in depth. For example, I will leave you with one here below (but there are tons more!)
To find out more about Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and other available products, visit the main Institute for Excellence in Writing Website. I personally love their page, Suggestions for Our New Members. This page offers such clarity, with the goal of the curriculum, links to scope and sequence, helps for grade level selections and even a link to join a “loop” (online forum groups).
The site is extensive and you can find catalogs, samples and videos to help you learn about the programs. You can also visit the Institute for Excellence in Writing Facebook page, where you can join in webinars, ask questions about the curriculum and see what others who are using the program are doing.
See what my crewmates have to say about Institute For Excellence In Writing
I received the TWSS and SWI level C through the TOS Crew for review purposes. I have given my honest opinion.