Finally A Writing Course For Kids Who Hate To Write: Institute For Excellence In Writing (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

I rarely every gush about a review. Even when I like a product or curriculum, there may be things that I would change or did change as we were using it. But I’m warning you, reader, that there is some serious gushing ahead. I had the opportunity to review the Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level B [Fix 1 & 2] along with A Word Write Now and Portable Walls from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). I am going to describe just what all these goodies are in a moment. But first, a little of my background in learning about IEW.

I love writing. I love to write informational essays and posts. I’ve even dabbled in writing some fiction. My oldest child quickly followed in my footsteps. It was so simple to teach her good writing skills and techniques because she loved it. I knew not every child liked writing. But I was doing everything right in teaching it, so surely all of my children would at least be able to write well even if they didn’t love it. But after my oldest, things began to seem not so simple. My second child hates to write and struggles with it. He gets frustrated, and I get frustrated as he attempts even a simple essay. And forget telling him to write a creative writing piece.

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At a homeschool convention one year, a friend introduced me to IEW, the Institute for Excellence in Writing. She talked me in to a workshop about the program because she was going to use it that year for her reluctant writer. I have to admit that I was impressed by the techniques. But deep down I wondered if it were really as good as all the hype. I didn’t purchase the program that year. I went home and continued with what I had been doing. And I could get my reluctant writer- and another that came after him- to write. But we’ve always struggled.

So when the opportunity came to review this package from IEW, I was very excited. Now I could see for myself if it was as wonderful as all the buzz I always hear. Because nothing can really be that good, right? I planned the review for Charles. And I picked the Level B. It is intended for 6th-8th graders. I’ll give more detail about what we thought. But the beauty of this program and the reason I’m gushing can be summed up in Charles’s initial response. My child who hates writing with a passion, who has literally been in tears over a writing assignment, who has a panic attack when I assign writing an essay said to me after the first lesson- “You know, Mom, this isn’t as bad as I thought.” He actually began to not mind his writing assignments each day. And there were days when he went on and did more than one lesson- beyond what was required! Yes, I am truly thankful for IEW. And I can definitely jump on the bandwagon of the many, many supporters in the homeschool community.

Now for some details:

What we received…

  • Teaching Writing Structure and Style DVD set (This is a new 2nd edition.)- This is the teacher training course that teaching you how to teach students writing using the IEW model. This is a premium edition, meaning that when you login to your IEW account and enter a password, you’ll have access to the course material as a streaming video; free monthly webinar training; MP3 audios of Andrew Pudewa’s popular conference workshops; and PDF downloads that include a huge student helps book that gives students word lists, explanations, and grammar rules; mini posters to print out and display; and four sets of source texts for the student to use in practicing Units 1-6 of the writing program.
  • A Seminar Workbook with handouts for the whole seminar and practicum exercises
  • Student Writing Intensive DVDs, Level B (for 6th-8th grade)
  • The Student Notebook that includes the handouts needed for the Student Writing Intensive as well as lesson plans to help you use it
  • Fix-It Grammar Books 1 and 2 (We received the teacher’s guides, and the student books are included as downloads.)- This is a grammar course based on editing sentences each day. 
  • A Word Write Now– This is a unique thesaurus that has words organized by character traits, behaviors, and the five senses. It comes as a spiral bound book.
  • Portable Walls- This is a file folder with mini posters (that are suggested in the Writing Intensive) that the student can open out and use on his desk as he’s doing his writing.
How we used all these goodies…
The Teaching Writing Structure and Style DVDs are a training course taught by IEW’s founder Dr. Andrew Pudewa, designed to help the teacher teach students writing using the IEW model. The course is filmed with a live class, so it’s as if you’re in his class. I happen to love taking classes. If I had unlimited money and time, I could have been a perpetual college student. So I was personally beyond thrilled to have this wonderful training course. The course contains twelve DVDs (or you can watch it streaming with the premium resources). It covers the nine unit program that IEW uses to teach writing to kids. Throughout the training there are times that the teacher has the chance to complete practice exercises that are just like the ones that the student will be doing in the writing course. I’ve been watching through this training course at bedtime as often as I can. I’m not through with the course yet, but I’m stopping to do all of the practice exercises. And I’m really trying not to rush through because there is so much good stuff here that I can use to teach all of the kids writing- with or without the student intensives course.
The IEW writing program is unique. Writing is taught over nine units, some cover reports, research and essays and some cover narrative, descriptive and prompt-based writing. Students begin by learning how to make key word outlines from an existing passage and write from that outline. Then they move to making a narrative outline and using it to retell a story. From there, they learn to take notes from one source and write a paragraph or report. Then they move to being able to write using key words from questions about pictures. After that the key words come from multiple sources, and students use those to write. Then students write from keyword answers to questions and notes that are “from their brain.” All of these lead to essay writing in unit eight and formal critique writing in unit nine. You can use the information from Teaching Writing Structure and Style to teach writing even if you do not purchase the student course. But, of course, having the student course- with Dr. Pudewa teaching and ready made lesson plans and source handouts- is much simpler.
Charles is using the Student Writing Intensive Level B. Although there are so many great resources that came in this set, it was all laid out well with plenty of information about how to get started. The Student Writing Intensive includes lesson plans that tell exactly what the student should do each day, including what segments of the DVD to watch and what handouts are needed. The student information all comes in a binder, and I put the lesson plans, handouts, and teacher notes in a separate binder that I keep, along with the DVDs. The Portable Walls and A Word Write Now are resources that the student uses as he is writing to have a visual of rules and concepts learned and to have a thesaurus to help him pick the best, most descriptive word to use.

Each student lesson is spread out over two weeks. Each lesson has detailed notes for the teacher that include what segment of the DVD the student will watch, what reinforcement activities the student will complete, and other pertinent information. You do not have to use the Teaching Writing Structure and Style training course in conjunction. You can simply follow along with the teacher resources that are included here. But, each lesson also notes for the teacher which segments of the training course might be helpful to have watched before teaching your student that lesson.
For Charles, I have used the lesson plans as given. The teacher notes explain how you can shorten each lesson to one week if the student is moving at a faster pace. He has completed daily lessons throughout the review period. I’m going to let him break over the summer, and then he is picking back up and finishing this course next school year.
Although the course doesn’t directly teach grammar, there are many references to parts of speech and grammar rules throughout the course. As a part of the deluxe package we also received the first two books in IEW’s Fix-It Grammar course. Charles was actually already using the first Fix-It Grammar book this school year, and he continued it in conjunction with his writing lessons. It was nice to use the two together. Having never used the IEW writing course, the Fix-It Grammar had some terminology that we weren’t familiar with. But, using the writing course, we were able to get a better explanation for some. And the two tie in very nicely with each other as Fix-It Grammar gives the student another context in which to practice the concepts that he is learning through the writing course.
Fix-It Grammar is a unique way of teaching grammar rules and having kids practice it in context. Instead of being based on grade level, the Fix-It Grammar levels are based on what the child already knows. The site provides a placement test to determine which level is appropriate, but it is usually recommended that the student begin with the first book. Charles had already been using Book 1- The Nose Tree– for grammar this year. Book 2, which we also received in this packet, is Robin Hood.
In Fix-It Grammar, the student is given a new grammar rule- or a few rules- each week. Each day’s work has one sentence that contains one or more errors. Students find and correct the errors, using the methods they have learned. Then they recopy the sentence neatly into a notebook. There is also a vocabulary word from the sentence to define each day. The grammar rules build on each other, and each week the student is using, not only the new one, but all of the rules so far. The sentences all combine to form a story. So at the end of the course, the student has a complete story, written correctly and neatly.
We received the Fix-It Grammar teacher’s manuals. These are spiral bound and have the student lessons each week along with an answer key for the sentence corrections. With purchase of the manual, you have access to the student book as a download and can print as many copies as needed within the family. You can also purchase the student books separately as a physical book.
And now for the gushing (a few- of the many- things I love about IEW)…
* I love the whole approach to teaching writing by having kids begin with a source piece of writing, taking the keyword outlines, and writing from their outlines. At the very beginning of the teacher training course, Dr. Pudewa points out that very few of us will ever become famous creative writers like C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. That’s not where most of our writing is headed. And most writing isn’t totally creative, totally new and unique content. Much of writing is a spin of the author’s thoughts and opinions on a subject already written about. So why- when we begin teaching kids to write- do we often start with a blank slate? We give kids a prompt or a question and expect them to come up with an original, creative writing. That’s very difficult. So, instead, the IEW process is to begin with an already written piece of writing and teach kids to write from that. Only much later in the process do they actually write a unique piece.
* Andrew Pudewa is an excellent teacher. He’s easy to listen to and learn from in the teacher training, but he’s also easily understood in the student intensive. He’s well-spoken, and he makes the concepts and processes of the program clear.
* Fix-It Grammar has been a favorite of mine for a while because the approach is to use grammar rules in context. It’s one thing to be able to memorize a rule and do a few grammar exercises relating to it. Often students then go on their merry way and promptly forget the rule in their own writing. But Fix-It Grammar is taught using editing. So it teaches the student to be in the habit of looking for and correcting grammar errors in their own writing.
* I love the use of posters to remind students of the different processes and strategies that they are learning. I’m a very visual learner. I like to have visual reminders. And even kids who aren’t primarily visual learners can benefit from having these reminders of the things they have learned. Throughout the teacher training course, there are examples of posters that you can hang up around your classroom to remind students of things they are learning. But, knowing that most homeschoolers don’t have a huge classroom in which to display posters, IEW created the Portable Walls folder that has many of the suggested posters on a file folder that folds up. The student pops it out during writing and has a visual reminder of what has been learned.
* The Premium subscription that comes with Teaching Writing Structure and Style is amazing. There are so many additional awesome resources available. I have only watched the course at home- usually at my bedtime- but having the streaming option that comes with the Premium is wonderful because I can watch anywhere I have wifi! And the packets of source material that are included will make it easier for me to continue to use the course with additional kids and have more source readings that Charles can use if he needs extra practice in any unit.
The bottom line…
Publisher– Institute for Excellence in Writing
Product- Deluxe Teacher/Student Writing Combo, Level B- $299 (and components sold separately)
Age range (for Level B)– 6th-8th grade
Connect on social media-
I’m really looking forward to continuing using this with Charles next school year, and I’m planning to add it to Ashlyne’s and Rachel’s school courses as well.

Crew Disclaimer

Schoolhouse Crew members used this and other levels of the writing program (including levels specifically designed for special needs students). You can read what they thought by clicking the banner below.

IEW Review

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