Saturday, August 15, 2009

Curriculum 2009: Writing

Several weeks ago, I began posting about each of our subjects and the curriculum we'll be using for them. But then I got distracted by post-due pregnancy issues, birth, and a newborn. I'd like to eventually get a post for each subject done.

Today, I'll write about our writing curriculum. We use Institute for Excellence in Writing for our formal writing curriculum. The curriculum has several options. The primary curriculum is Teaching Writing: Structure and Style. This is a set of DVDs where the creator shows you, the parent/teacher, how to teach writing to your own students. You can easily do this by watching each segment before teaching that particular skill/set. That way you don't have to learn the whole thing at once. Another option is the Student Writing Intensives and Student Continuation Courses; both of these are DVD sets teaching your student directly. They basically sit in on a class that is taught on the DVD and do the assigned homework. The assignments come with a very specific grading expectations, making checking their work easy. A final option is their theme based lessons. These packages provide resource documents and assignments based on a theme, such as ancient history or science. They are designed for the parent to teach writing to their own children while integrating it with other subjects.

I love this curriculum for a few reaons. The primary one is that the expectations are VERY clear. The student is told what to do, exactly. There is no room to fudge. For example, they might be required to write a paragraph containing a topic sentence, a clencher sentence (conclusion), and 5-6 supporting details. Further, they have a checklist to ensure that they use an adjective, an adverb, strong verbs, certain types of sentence openings/clauses, etc. The point of these requirements is to get your students using varied sentence structure and vocabulary. With practice, they'll begin to write better without the need for the checklists. If you have a child like mine, who can technically complete a writing assignment in the fewest possible number of words, you'll appreciate the specific requirements. Further, the checklist makes grading really easy. Each item has points associated with it; simply take off the points listed for each item missed.

Another reason I like the program is that it is based on imitation. The student learns by imitating good writing. Over time, they develope their own style. In the meantime, they can practice writing without the dreaded "I don't know what to write about" excuse. They are given source documents from which they complete the entire process of writing. They begin by reading the source document, then outlining it as taught, then writing a rough draft, then editing and writing the final draft. It's simple to teach and fairly simple to learn. Over time, the source documents become more difficult and/or multiple source documents are provided for one assignment. Eventually, the student moves on to using library and other reference material.

As a supplement to this curriculum, we read Michael Clay Thompson's writing curriculum. Part of why we use this is the simple fact that we use the other four parts of MCT's language arts curriculum. As a stand alone, I think it would be too difficult to use well. It's written in story form and explains the parts of good writing. In the back of the teacher's manual are a dozen or two pages with suggested writing assignments. I don't use these because they are too open ended for my children, especially Mika, who are good at technically completing the assignment with as few words as possible. However, the books are interesting to read and do provide some good information that may not be provided in the IEW materials until later. For example, the paragraph level teaches about transitions which is not taught in the early level of IEW. Sam will be reading Sentence Island this year, which I consider to be more grammar than wrtiting.

Mika's language arts plan for this year will also incorporate creative writing, which is a whole different post.

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SaDonna said...

I've been looking into IEW as a writing supplement as well. Can you tell me if you have used the Student Writing Intensive A as your program or the TWSS DVDs instead? I think I would like to sit in while the instructor talks directly to the kids, so that is why I am leaning towards SWI over the TWSS dvds. Since you have experience in the program, I wondered about your thoughts.