Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)- Schoolhouse Crew Review

I have learned the hard way that writing does not just come naturally to most children. Even when it does, it takes practice, guidance, and refinement to turn that writing into presentable material. I have also found that parents usually encounter one or two kinds of students - the child who will spend an hour filling pages upon pages with a story, (which, upon reading, you realize has resulted in just the introduction of the characters and no plot) or the child who will spend one hour writing one sentence. Lucky for me, I have had both! And I have tried a lot of writing programs. A lot! It was not until we happened upon IEW years ago that I begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. 

A few months ago, we were blessed by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) with a plethora of amazing products.  This Deluxe Combo Teacher/Student Writing Package Level B with Fix It 1 & 2, Plus, A Word Write Now and Portable Walls, which targets grades 6-8, has kept us busy, but in a good way.

Because there is so much to this amazing package, let me first start with the basics of what each component is.

Teaching Writing-Style and Structure (TWSS)- This is just for the instructor. Mr. Pudewa, the instructor for the course, has been filmed teaching the "teacher" how to use the program. The first thing you will hear in the 12 disk set is the reasoning behind the system and how it works. Then Mr. Pudewa walks through each of the 9 units. There are three additional disks that show you examples of students' work. The premium subscription included in this set also gives you access to video streaming and additional e-resources. The notebook included contains the syllabus and other materials needed such as word lists and stories used.

Student Writing IntensiveThis is where the rubber hits the road. This 3 ring binder and the accompanying 4 disk set teaches your student how to write. The binder comes with 5 tabs and the needed resources to get you started. The child watches a DVD and is directed by Mr. Pudewa on the assignment for the day. Most days do begin with watching a segment of the lecture, but some days are just built in practice days. You can use this program from 15 to 30 weeks, depending on how quickly your child is able to work through it successfully.

Units include-
Note Making and Outlines
Writing From Notes
Retelling Narrative Stories
Summarizing a Reference
Writing From Pictures
Summarizing Multiple References
Inventive Writing
Formal Essay Models
Formal Critique

Your child will also cover concepts Mr. Pudewa calls "Stylistic Techniques," such as the "who/which" clause, very short sentences (VSS), and the "because" clause, as well as learning to replace weak verbs and adjectives.

Fix It 1 & 2-  Consider this the new way to conquer grammar. Two student books (downloadable in our case, but also available in hard copy) take you through a story one line per day. Each day you have several things to do. On day one you are taught a new grammar component, such as verbs or adjectives. You then read the assigned sentence and identify the vocabulary word in bold print. You are asked to write that word in your notebook with the proper definition. Next, with the guidance of the teacher, your student will mark the passage, identifying specific words as directed and "fixing" any mistakes found. The sentence is then rewritten in a notebook. On days 2-4 the student defines a new word, corrects the next sentence, and rewrites it in the notebook, thus copying the story one line at a time. By the time you finish the program, a complete story has been handwritten by your child and they have a separate "dictionary" in their notebook. Fix It! also comes with a Teacher's Manual for each book that has all of the answers in it as well as teacher's notes and hints. For quick reference, you can also print out Grammar Cards that cover each new concept learned. Each of the two books you receive will take you through one year of intermediate grammar at this level. There are placement tests online to help you determine which book you should begin with. Book 1 is titled The Nose Tree and Book 2 is titled Robin Hood!

A Word Write Now-  This little gem is a themed thesaurus for your child to use while writing. Word lists are categorized into various themes, making it easy for your child to choose a word without the drudgery of pouring through a dictionary. Themes include the senses, words for envy, gossip, hostility, and more. Each page has the definition of the word and uses several quotes from famous people about that word. In addition, there are several quotes from classical literature that show the word in action. Each word also has synonyms listed in groups- Nouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, and Verbs, in addition to having space to write any additional words the student might want to add.

Portable Walls- Once upon a time you could order these huge wall charts that are used frequently in the IEW program for your "classroom." Charts include banned words, -ly words and more. Now, there is a new option of having these charts right at your child's fingertips in a tri-fold 8x11 fashion. Each chart is intended to help a child quickly reference a concept taught so they can spend their time in writing rather than stumbling through dictionaries and their notes.

How we are using this program
One week at a time! Seriously! Mr. Peudewa has kindly provided an amazing schedule for you to follow that I highly recommend. Each day tells you which portion of the SWI disk to watch and then what assignment to work on. Since I am teaching only one student, we do tend to work fewer days on the writing and correcting portions. I will also move forward after just one exercise if I feel my son has a good grasp on the concept, though in many cases several are available to use. This happened quite frequently in the beginning chapters and less so on the later ones, due to his age and prior experience with IEW. Before we begin each of the 9 units, I watch the corresponding DVD from the TWSS component. This helps me see what is coming, to know how to direct my son better, and what to look for as far as potential problems or scenarios.
The Fix It! program is designed to be used four days a week, which we found to be schedule friendly since we tend to do a lighter school load on Fridays.

IEW Review

What we love about this program-
  • TWSS- While you CAN teach this program without ever having seen these disks, I strongly recommend you do not. I taught my two older children just using the student portion of the program years ago. However, this time around and teaching my 7th grade son, I watched the videos and got so much more out of the program. Let's just say there were a lot of a-ha! moments.
  • Sequential steps- Writing can overwhelm even the best of students. By breaking up the steps into smaller bites, from the key word outlines to eventually writing large reports, students are less likely to be overwhelmed to the point of frustration.
  • All inclusive- Between what is included in the binders and the files you can access in the premium subscription, everything you need to teach this course is included. While you are welcome to use outside sources to find stories, there is no need to.
  • Humor- Hear me say this - this is not your ordinary boring writing program. Mr. Pudewa is a "trip" as my kiddos will tell you. He makes learning fun and keeps the students giggling with his zany comments and entertaining stories. Even my 7 year old likes watching him and asks that we not watch the videos without him.
  • Ease of use- I am a lesson plan gal, I admit it. I like it when someone tells me exactly what to do and when. That is exactly what you will find in the teacher's notes. Each lesson outlines what to watch (down to the disk timing), what handouts to use, what will be taught in each lesson, and provides composition checklists to assist you in grading. Student samples are also included.

  • New Portable Walls- I loved having beautiful charts all over our past homeschool rooms, but let's face it, not many of us have that option, so this new format is a life and space saver!
  • Fix It!- I wasn't sure about this program at first, but I have to admit that it is a neat program. It was quick enough to not bore my son and was a good solid method for teaching grammar, proving that diagramming sentences is not the only way to learn! Thank goodness!

  • A Word Write Now- This is ingenious. I love that it is so thorough and can be used by students of multiple ages for years to come. It is simply a great resource for any student.

If you are looking for a strong writing program to not only teach your child to write, but to inspire them to be the best writer they can be, I highly recommend this program. They will not only learn invaluable skills, but have a little fun along the way. Who could ask for more?!

IEW Review

Crew Disclaimer


  1. We started using Fix-It Grammar, The Nose Tree, last year and will finish it by the end of the summer. Then I am moving onto Robin Hood. It is perfect in that it teaches grammar, includes an interesting story, and the lessons are short and sweet with lots and lots of review. I highly recommend Fix-It, as well.

    1. We like it more each additional week we use it!


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