Friday, May 13, 2011

TOS Crew Review: IEW Student Intensive Writing Pack-level B plus the Portable Wall (a huge review on a huge program)

Before I even begin this review, Mr. Pudewa-if you are reading this-I hang my head in shame.  It is not IEW worthy.  I write my reviews as I would if I were sitting face to face with you, expounding the wonderment or the horrors of a product-not as though I were writing a report or something I would share with the class.  I pray that you will turn a blind eye to my review, as I simply cannot poignantly pen all the check list-ables here.  I love ya man-but I just cannot, as it would just be too much against my front porch, yammering it up with you style.  Oh,  just another nugget of information for you-I love the commas, dashes, the brackets and parenthesis, of which I am sure breaks many grammar and punctuation rules.  I am just that way.

A few years back, my daughter and I were invited to join a group of homeschoolers who were working through a supplementary writing course from the Institute for Excellence in Writing [better known as IEW], and at first, we were rather excited to try out this "new to us" program. Once we started to attend, the charm quickly wore off. It was then, that we began to truly question the process, and the man (some mysterious guy named Andrew Pudewa) behind it.  You see, they (meaning all the other families, say for mine and my friend's) had been using the Student Intensive Writing series for several years.  We had not.  I just didn't get the "why" behind all the Key Word exercises and the rewriting needed, to basically say the same thing. Especially since we got the super shortened, Reader's Digest version of the method on our first day. My daughter and I walked away from that experience with a sour attitude toward IEW.  In fact, I usually did not recommend using it.  I avoided it like the plague, which I now know to be a terrible shame in deed.

When presented with the opportunity to review this, I hesitantly accepted the challenge.  I felt I could give it the "ole college try" (and yes, I meant to imply I would need a drink or two to get through it, even though I don't really consume alcohol); plus at the very least, I would be able to justify my aversion to the program especially if it did back my original opinion of it. Well, wouldn't you know-I am a changed woman.  Yes, I am.  And now that I have your curiosity peaked, regarding how a gal can go from a plague-like aversion to a love for the program in just a few short weeks-here is the reason in a nutshell... 

We missed the foundational explanation of the very fiber of the program. Mr. Pudewa's DVD instruction classes found in the Student Intensive Writing [SIW] course [where we would have received the 'splaining of it all], was a huge  M.I.A. component from our initial experience .  I didn't have access to the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style [TWSS] workshop series either.  We were that proverbial crew up a creek without a paddle.  We drifted along the course without an accurate map, guide  and adequate survival gear. But no more my friends, no more.

I received the B level Combo pack to review, which contains both the SWI and the TWSS set.  This level is geared for your average 6th-8th grade students, but is really a great fit for those who have a wide variety of ages to teach-including high schoolers.  It is consider the "middle ground" course, which certainly contains difficult enough material to suit an older student (who has had no previous exposure to IEW or writing courses in general) because you can tweak it out to require a bit more from them.  It can be watered down enough to meet the needs of a savvy fifth grader too.  So if you have oodles of children to teach, and their age range is somewhere betwixt the upper elementary to high school level, this is a good choice.

Let's take a look-see at each program 
contained within the Combo pack :

The Student Intensive Writing series can be used as a stand alone course if need be, but I don't recommend doing so-the TWSS adds so much to the program. The SIW contains 15 units which can take anywhere from 15-30 weeks to complete.  Each lesson has a section on the DVD which correlates to it, and the necessary material [provided in the student packet/binder] needed to complete the assignment. The included Teacher's Guide lists [gosh it also has the DVD disc times listed to the second for you] all the possible KeyWord choices from the sources, along with additional material to assist the instructor.  The most useful is the suggested schedule. This actually breaks the lessons down into 5 day sections, of varying lengths (some only last 15-20 mins) and lists the homework assignments; so that you can better manage the time spent on the program-which ultimately avoids bored, overstressed new writers.

Starting at the basics [finding Key Words, to writing it in their own words], then gradually working up to more complex skills [such as the ever joyous research paper], the student will fine tune their writing techniques in less than a year.  The ultimate goal is to create within the student, the ability [as in second nature] to take various other source texts, then easily "trim the fat" to rewrite a unique piece of work. Most importantly, doing this without plagiarizing or producing incredibly inadequate "junk".

The lessons are concise; asking just enough of the student to not overwhelm them; yet all the while remaining light-hearted, and fun due to Mr. Pudewa's charming lectures.  All that, and it will stretch the student's writing skills. Furthermore, IEW allows you to advance through the lessons which the child quickly grasps, or to slow down when necessary, for more practice and/or a better understanding of the concept being taught.  After completing this, you can choose to move on to the Continuation course, switch over to theme based supplements, or you can simply continue on with using new sources for inspiration. 

The SWI  B level course covers:

*Key Word Outlines  
*Summary [from Notes] and Dress-Ups
*Story [Sequence] Summary and Dress-Ups
*Reference Summary, Paragraph Structure 
and Sentence Openers
*Creative Writing and Sentence Openers

Included in the package is the binder with divider tabs, 
all necessary worksheets/source texts,
 and of course, the DVD lessons.

**If you are concerned your high school student will be lacking the essentials, this chart show that only two areas are not covered in the B level. This is where the TWSS [which shows you how to teach your students the IEW method of writing] is worth it's weight in gold! You can certainly address those upper level necessities after completing this program.  Some friendly advice here from a HS veteran: don't get your panties in a bunch about it not being "tough enough" or that it won't push the student.  If they struggle with writing in the first place, you want them to feel confident and at ease when learning these skills-so sometimes setting the bar at a height they can leap over, is better than creating a wall they have to catapult over-which may lead to them "hitting the wall" instead.  With the TWSS as your assistant advisor, you can beef up the required material to a high school level, without traumatizing your reluctant or "not-so-swell of a writer" student.


The meat and potatoes of the IEW series is the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Course.  This dear mother (or father) is meant for you.  You will work your way through ten hours of instruction which explains each concept covered within the lessons, along with opportunities to test drive the method [IE: doing the assignments] for yourself-before you teach your students. As an added bonus, you will walk away from this course having a clear understanding regarding Mr. Pudewa's not so crazy design behind the program.  Jam packed with notes, helpful tips, samples of real student (not faked by adults) writings, extensive offerings of additional nuts and bolts and extra source texts; the course will leave you with so much material and know how, you will be able to teach your kiddies from grades 2-12th and beyond (and perhaps yourself too)! If that isn't enough for you, they also have the website bejeweled with areas of assistance, such as the FAQ, Articles, Where to Start, Conference Handout sections and a Yahoo Group dedicated to IEW. On top that, they have honest to goodness actual peeps on the other end of the phone line [otherwise known as customer service representatives] full of extra help, knowledge, and kindness that you can rely on as well.  

The TSWW course covers:

*Overview of the program  
*Note Making and Outlines
*Summarizing from Notes  
      *Summarizing Narrative Stories 
*Summarizing References
and Library Reports
*Writing from Pictures  
*Creative Writing with Structure
*Formal Essay Writing  *Critiques

*Stylistic Techniques 
(referred to throughout the course)
explanation and practice regarding the Key Words,
 Dress-Ups, Sentence Openers, 
Decorations, etc. that are the main components behind
 the program's success

Included in the package is the binder, 
section divider tabs, 
Syllabus Appendix [includes lesson plan sheets] 
and a Quick Start Guide and of course the DVDs

Now, if you have to make a choice between the two programs [due to finances]-your safe bet is to purchase this one.  It has everything (including the Tips and Tricks DVD) that you will need to adequately instruct all of your students for years. Plus they include 3 DVDs [A, B and C levels] with the first lesson found on the SWI course, so you can "see" the concepts in action. This is a treasure trove of info for you,  dear homeschooler. Lest I forget to mention this -teachers in public and private schools can use the IEW program with great success too (and have); as it is meant for anyone wanting to see better results in their student's writing abilities.

A last side note here regarding the TWSS-this is a big program and probably a totally different way to write than you have been taught or use. You will need some time to simmer the material in your head, so I highly recommend you get this long before you want to start teaching it.  No, you do not have to watch the entire thing before you do, just the section on the lesson you will be covering next. But I found that I do better if I have time to "let it sink in", or allow for those moments when I need to go back and re-watch/learn something so that I feel confident in teaching it.  I know this is a spency product, but if you really want to get the writing "thang" down pat in your children's noodles-this is one of the best programs I have come across that will actually do just that. Now remember, as you have read, skimping and forgoing the major parts of the program simply leads to a downtrodden affect, all the while losing the effectiveness of  the basic understanding and reason behind it.  What's more-the SWI matches the lessons found within this, so with the combo pack-you will get the best of both worlds.  If you are "ify" on a particular section, the SWI will clear it up for you-visually and through verbal instruction.  Now that is totally awesome.

One last product here:

The Portable Wall   is a recent addition to the IEW product line.  This handy little foldable [when closed it fits nicely in the binder pocket, when opened it forms a self-standing knowledge center] that contains all the necessities to super charge their writing assignments.  Think of it as a large-sized, laminated version of a "crib sheet" on steroids. The students will keep track of the lists in their notebooks [on provided worksheets], but this is a great extra to have.

The Wall has been nicely organized into sections listing Dress-Ups, Sentence Openers, Decorations, Triple Extensions, "-ly" Adverbs, "-ly" Imposters (which can also be spelled Impostors), Prepositions, Synonyms for "Said", Strong Verbs, and flow charts highlighting the key points of all the units found within the IEW program.

Snippets into our IEW world:

We worked (still are) through the sections with my high school level student.  She was somewhat familiar (as noted above) with the idea of the Key Word and rewriting techniques, so we were able to move quickly through the first several lessons.  We slowed down and simmered over the Summarizing Narratives unit,  to be sure she understood and meet the "check list" components in her assignments.  She actually got so excited, she penned a small novella when only asked to write three paragraphs.  So that alone is a huge improvement in her 'tude toward writing in general-especially using the IEW method.  When I needed to "pump up the jam" in her requirements, I would refer to the TWSS section/pages conveniently noted (so kind of them) in the Teacher's Guide of the SIW course.  This allowed for me to personalize and "upgrade" the necessities to her skill level.  I appreciate that.  We are now embarking on the Report Writing section, which I purposely have held off until the end of this semester. I want to allow for the entire summer to pour over this extremely needful skill, without too many other subjects vying for her attention.  I will then add in the Formal Essay lessons found within the TWSS guide, to be sure we have covered the "must haves" for a well-rounded high school student.  Again, this highlights the flexibility of the program. 

I have seen in just a few short weeks, how my precious daughter has become a better writer,  having developed techniques that she can use her entire life (to apply to any writing situation really).  And that is why I am a changed woman regarding the whole IEW fiasco.

As for the TWSS-I am still pouring over it (again and again), to get a crystal clear know how and ability to apply this IEW technique to any subject matter we cover in our schooling. I will be able to pull source texts from our daily work for the children to rewrite and improve upon.  I am very pleased to have this major source of excellence at my fingertips, and even more excited about sharing my new found love of the Institute for Excellence in Writing program.

[I simply cannot expound everything there is about this huge program on this undeniably long post.  You need to visit the site, and do your own research (down load the freebies, watch the clips and if you can-look through the material to get a better idea of how immense this is) to see if this is a good fit for your family.]

You will have a bit more pre-work when using the TWSS-esp. if only using this program,
as you will need to locate/figure out what source texts you want to use.
 The student can handle most of the SIW lessons on their own, 
with a bit of teacher assistance/grading involved

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$239 for the Pack
target age range: 6-8 grade
This combination package is 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. [taken from the website]

$7.00 each
all students

Components can be purchased separately. 

**Don't forget to find out what my TOS mates had to say about this, and many other fine homeschool products, over on our TOS Review Crew Homepage.

***The Institute for Excellence in Writing provided me with on free Writing Intensive Pack-level B kit and one Portable Wall, so that I would use this with my children and write this review. I did not receive any financial compensation for my honest opinion of this product.


Denise said...

Loved, loved, loved your informative review, but you're killing me here!! I received the SWI Level C and was debating whether or not to purchase the TWSS. You are making me want to purchase!! I was supposed to be done ordering school material for next year! lol

ksudoc93 said...

Love your take on this, as always! Isn't it amazing how using the whole program together works- I'm totally thinking this program should be required college prep material for every kid. Sure wish I'd had it sooner :)