Mention “writing” to many of the homeschool moms I know, and you’ll see them turn pale. It’s one of those subjects that can cause you to question your ability to teach your own children at home, especially if you’ve never been much of a writer yourself.
Our writing instruction has consisted of copywork in the early years, along with oral narration, transitioning to written narration at about age ten. Informal writing has included blog entries and writing shared stories with online friends.
When the TOS Crew learned that we would be reviewing a writing curriculum said to be especially good for reluctant writers, I was excited. Among our three, one is a voracious reader and skilled writer, one is interested in writing but has trouble organizing thoughts, and the third is definitely reluctant, at least when it comes to formal writing. Blog posts? Yes. Exchanging ideas with other cat fans, even writing dialog and descriptions and scenes in a shared story? Yes. An assigned paragraph? Awww, Mom!
I carefully read through the descriptions of the levels on The Write Foundation website. At the website you can find information about the author, how the curriculum came to be written and used, testimonials, more detail on each level, sample lessons, and more.
There are three levels:
Sentence Writing (suggested ages 11-13)
Paragraph Writing (suggested ages 12-15)
Essay Writing (suggested ages 14-17)
Since Youngest (12) is the Reluctant Writer mentioned above, and can write competent sentences both voluntarily and under duress, I elected to review Level 2: Paragraph Writing.
From the website description of Level 2:
- Lesson plans formatted in an easy-to-follow system
- Begins with steps to writing the basic paragraph
- Improves sentence structure with basic grammar and figures of speech
- Teaches different styles and techniques each week
- Teaches the organizational process of brainstorming, outlining, rough draft and editing.
- Progresses to writing two-, three-, and four-paragraph papers
- Introduces the five-paragraph formal essay
- Creative poetry writing
- Guidelines, checklists and correct structure
- 30 lessons with lesson plans for either a one- or two-year format
Daily work, 5 to 10 days per lesson
The lessons are designed to take about 1-1/2 hours per day, with some work done independently. The curriculum is teacher-intensive; this is not an independent-study program (but then, I can’t think of a writing curriculum that would be independent study…).
You present the material to your student, you work examples with your student, you grade your student’s work and go over the corrections together. You write together, and your student applies what was learned in writing independently. The program is flexible in that you can go through the material quickly or more slowly. Suggested 5-day and 10-day lesson plans are included in the introductory material.
This curriculum was written by a home educator, honed in a co-op setting (which shows in the structure and format — more about that in a minute) and is in the process of being adapted for private home use.
Maybe not fancy, but tried and tested
Physically, the materials aren’t fancy. You get a spiral-bound instruction manual, a packet of student workpages, and a CD. (We didn’t get a CD, but rather were given the opportunity to download the files from the CD. They now reside on my hard drive, and I need to back them up to a CD! …mental note to self. But let us not digress.)
According to the author, all you need to do to get started is to spend a couple of hours reading the instructions, and then start teaching. Step-by-step lesson plans are included, and the first lesson is devoted to setting up a student binder to keep track of assignments. Frankly, I found the curriculum easier to implement than I thought it would be. I was a little intimidated by all the ancillary files on the CD, the grading discussion (we’ve pretty much followed a “pass-fail” approach except in math which is easy to quantify), and the descriptions of the lessons in the lesson plans. The plans were easier to do than to read about, in other words.
Design reflects co-op use
The curriculum really shows its origins in its organization. Lessons are designed to take about an hour or two of concentrated work (done in one day), followed by several days of independent work on the student’s part. You’ll run across instructions to do part of an exercise together in class, and then have the students finish the exercise in small groups or with partners. If you’re teaching one person, well, that’s a pretty small group. You, the teacher, end up being the partner. Unless you want to count the dog, who sits in on every lesson, but never has much to contribute, besides the occasional snore. Some record-keeping forms included on the CD reflect larger class size than your typical family setting.
On the other hand, if you’re planning to teach writing to a co-op class, you’re all set. You just need to have the students’ families purchase the student materials. Copy permission is given within an individual family for personal family use, but not for an entire class.
The beauty of home instruction, of course, is that we don’t have to cram all the instruction into one day of the week. There’s a drawback to this kind of course at home, too — it’s too easy to let the daily writing get crowded out, unless I’m dealing with a highly motivated student. At present, Youngest isn’t quite ready for so much freedom (individual writing work). Somehow meeting Mom’s deadlines is not so pressing as having her stuff together for a co-op class. Accountability… I have to have a set time for writing every day (naturally “scheduled” people probably wouldn’t have this problem), and she’s happier to have quick feedback, than to store up all her work for a once weekly teaching session.
Creativity within structure
The format is formal, but creativity is nestled within the structure. For example, each lesson begins with Mind Benders (this is an additional purchase, by the way). Mind Benders are exercises in thinking logically, with the flavor of a game. I guess I’d liken it to chewable multi-vitamins; they taste good, and they provide something good for you. The author encourages you to emphasize high-interest topics and even silliness, as appropriate, to keep the process of learning writing fun and not drudgery.
Laying a foundation with an eye towards the future
Lessons are repetitive, laying a foundation of writing habits and learning to use writing tools. In a sense, it’s rather like drilling math facts. While repeating skills to achieve mastery, the lessons are also building upon each other. While emphasizing the importance of practice and repetition, the author also warns against making writing practice a tedious process.
(Side note: Middlest hates repetition. Even so, I’m considering going through this curriculum with her as well. She can write fluently, but her organization could use some, um, organizing, I guess you’d say. Unlike Youngest, she’ll probably be able to handle this course as it’s written, with a “mom” session once a week, followed by independent work.)
A few of the included concepts I’m glad for: grammar, poetry, and outlining. These are areas where our Language Arts has not been very systematic, up to this point. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the helpful writing checklists, that you build upon with your students as you progress through the lessons.
The author started a yahoo group for people using The Write Foundation Curriculum. See more information here. It’s a handy place to get answers to your questions from the author herself, and from others using the curriculum.
Cost is $100 per level or $65 for half a level, plus tax and shipping.
To read more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of The Write Foundation, click here.
Disclaimer: Members of the TOS Crew were given The Write Foundation writing curriculum for personal family use and for review purposes. Our family received fifteen lessons of Level Two: Paragraph Writing. (There are thirty lessons total in Level Two.) No monetary compensation was involved.