A friend of mine asked me if I would feel comfortable talking to another lady about my experiences with Andrew Pudewa’s “Teaching Writing: Structure and Style” program (commonly known as IEW). It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable sharing my experiences with IEW. But I haven’t used the program for very long and am still in the very early stages of the program. I pondered whether my thoughts would be of much value at this stages in our IEW journey but then I decided that if I didn’t give her the information she was seeking then she was no worse off, she’d just have to continue her search, so I penned my response to her queries.
I’m going to share what I wrote in hopes that it might be useful to others. It’s mostly an explanation of why I chose to use IEW and how we have found it so far.
I’m happy to give you my thoughts on IEW. We love it! My hubby loves it so much he’s using it in his classroom. However my boys are only little 9 and 7 and we’ve only been using it properly for half a year with my eldest and haven’t touched on any of the more advanced stuff yet.
Last year I was stumbling around trying to figure out what to use to teach writing. Everything I looked at didn’t “teach” writing at all. It gave all sorts of activities to practise your writing skills on but nothing actually showed them how to write. They were more about “what” to write.
Lots of the other programs involved a lot of creative writing which I believe is a stumbling block for writers who aren’t necessarily creative. And having helped marked stacks of grade 4 and 5 creative stories for my husband’s classes over the years I know they are hardly ever creative but rather rehashed plots from popular books, games or movies. Unlike other programs, IEW doesn’t start children writing creatively until later. I love this, particularly for boys who are all about the hard cold facts.
Andrew Pudewa (the author of IEW) turns the writing process on its head and comes about it in a totally different way. He starts by giving them a text as a model eg a non-fiction paragraph and shows them how to select key words from each sentence. Once they’ve got their keywords, they remove the model text and use the keywords to rewrite the sentences. The idea being that they are not recreating the ideas but purely practicing writing skills. To me it feels like the supported step between copywork and writing their own narrations.
This is the first step of the program. It’s the part I’m most familiar with as that’s what Ethan has been doing a lot of this year. From this point the program teaches them to use various writing techniques when they are rewriting their paragraphs from key words. Things like adding adverbs and adverbial clauses, strong verbs, quality adjectives, who/which clauses etc.
Once the kids are confident and competent writers the program then shows them how to write quality creative texts and formal essays. This is the main reason I love IEW. They start from the beginning and build their skill base and stamina before expecting the kids to write something of their own.
The way we teach writing in schools reminds me of the whole language approach to reading. Rather than teaching the skills of phonics Whole Language teachers give their students complex literature and believe that their student’s desire to read it will enable them to learn the skill to read. It does work for some who’d probably learn to read no matter what way you tried on them. But many don’t. Particularly boys. It’s the same with writing. At school they don’t teach the skill of writing they set them a writing task and believe that their desire to write will enable them to write. And once again it does work for some, but for many, particularly boys, it’s a slow and difficult task. Most of the homeschool writing curriculums use the same approach that schools are using. They set a writing topic and expect the students to write. IEW doesn’t do that.
I bought the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style package which is technically all you need to teach the program. Originally that’s all you had a choice of. It’s mostly dvds of Andrew showing adults at a workshop how to teach the skills of writing. There’s also a folder of resources that comes with it but there’s not a huge amount in it although it’s important stuff for the program. It’s mostly lists of things he uses on the dvds and writing examples.
I also bought the Student Writing Intensive Level A (actually I bought the combo of the teacher and student packages to save the extra money). Technically you don’t need this but I liked having the extra bit of support in an area where I was drowning in “what to dos”. This is also a dvd based package but in it Andrew is presenting the workshop to children. Some people just play the dvds to their children but Andrew prefers for it to be used as an example of how you might present a class to your children.
It’s not as complex as it sounds. I just watch the dvd to get my next step and then work on that skill with Ethan until we are ready to move on. Then I watch the next bit that I need…which is why I can’t tell you too much beyond what we’re already doing.
Have you had a squiz at Andrew’s website? It’s full of goodies.
You can find his free articles here:
There are several freebies to download (books and audio) here:
Andrew’s audio is fantastic and cheap. Even if you don’t end up using IEW, he has a lot of fabulous ideas to share.
http://www.excellenceinwriting.com/catalog/e-audio (not all of them are by Andrew but they tell you when it’s by someone else)
He’s probably my favourite homeschool speaker and if he comes to Australia, I will be there with bells on!! He was supposed to come this year but it was postponed.
My dear friend Sarah has used IEW with her 10 year old for a while now and swears by it. I’ve seen samples of her writing and I was really impressed. It was Sarah’s recommendations that led me to purchase it. Sarah had IEW recommended to her by her neighbour who is a high school English teacher. She uses it with her classes and is a huge fan.
Well I hope this helps somewhat. Like I said, I haven’t been using it for all that long but from what we’ve done so far I’ve been very pleased. Hubby’s even trying to convince his staff to buy it for the school but change happens slowly in those places. Liam feels it’s given him direction for “how” to teach writing which I think is what is missing in our teacher training. Teaching writing for me before IEW was a big mystery. I could come up with plenty of short real life things to write about but like with reading, even if you give them a truly short sentence, you can’t just say, “Read this”. They have to know how to do it. IEW is giving me the skills to show Ethan “how” to write. It’s taking the mystery out of it for me…thank goodness. It’s no longer the thing I dread. Ethan writes every day now and it’s not the same battle that it used to be.
Oh yes the other thing with IEW is that writing is not necessarily taught as a separate subject. You are encouraged to use the writing skills you are equipping the kids with to write in other subjects. So for example, everyday Ethan uses the key word summary of our bible story to write a short paragraph by himself. Two to three times a week he also writes another paragraph in history or whatever other topic we are focusing at the time. Recently he’s written about Bach, St Helena Island, Jamestown and Henri Matisse. I just give him the paragraph he’s to write about, he takes it away, underlines 3 key words in each sentence, writes these key words on a separate piece of paper, brings the original text back to me and then sets to work rewriting the text in his own words using the key words as prompts. The written work is then included in his history or music or whatever subject notebook the text relates to. It’s great practise for longer assignments and it shows them how to use a text for research without copying great chunks of texts.
Okay, I’m sure you’ve fallen asleep from boredom now and if not, and you’ve made it to the end of this email, you have done well. Hehehe. Anyway, I hope there’s something useful here.
Good luck with your decision making process.
I promise that I’ll keep you up-to-date on with our IEW journey as we progress through the program. I don’t anticipate changing from it. It’s been an answer to prayer so far.
Finally we have direction in our writing lessons, no tantrums over writing activities and written pieces that both the little author and his mummy can be proud of.