Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: IEW

Today is the day. I have to sit down and write rewrite the review I've been dreading for months. Grab a cup of something, because this is going to be long...

If you have homeschooled for any length of time, you have undoubtedly at least heard of IEW -- Institute for Excellence in Writing. If you are really fortunate, you've had the chance to see Andrew Pudewa speak somewhere. I really wanted to see him at the North Dakota convention a couple months ago, but alas, with only one car... well, that didn't work. <sigh>

Institute for Excellence in Writing is a company that produces primarily writing materials. Their main product, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS) is a DVD seminar to teach the teacher how to teach writing. The seminar part consists of six DVDs and a 3 ring binder workbook, plus three more DVDs showing Andrew Pudewa teaching kids in various age groups (that you can have your kids watch), plus a Tips and Tricks DVD, which is a bit like an update to the six-DVD seminar.

Wow! So much information, it made my head spin. Or at least it did the first time I tried to "get" this whole IEW thing. You see, I borrowed TWSS from a friend and watched the whole thing over about a week, thinking I could then have the information to utilize IEW with my kids via one of their theme schedules.

My reaction back then was mostly how incredibly gifted of a teacher Andrew is, how this approach isn't as stilted and awkward as I had always thought, and YES! I can do this!  The biggest thing I took out of that whirlwind viewing of TWSS was Andrew comparing teaching writing to teaching violin.  Okay, so I subbed viola in my mind... but when my teachers were having me do little drills and exercises on the viola, they expected some awkward phrasing.  And the idea wasn't that I'd master a perfect scale so that I could perform it at a symphony.  The idea was to practice various skills and techniques to get good at those skills and techniques.  Then, when I encountered a little phrase in a real piece of music, I could 'just do it' without really even thinking about it. 

Writing is the same.  The goal in writing *instruction* is to teach techniques.  We'll hear awkward phrasing.  We aren't shooting for an award-winning paragraph.  We are shooting for mastery of various techniques and skills, so that when the child is writing something real, they will be able to put in strong verbs, or mix up their sentence openers, without really even thinking about it.

We started using the Ancient History-Based Lessons (the old version, not the one currently sold) and it was a struggle.  Really, we failed.  In retrospect, I took in way too much information way too fast, and it didn't have time to sink in. Since I did not own the TWSS (nor could I readily re-borrow it), I didn't have the chance to refresh my understanding except through the seminar notebook.  It was horrible. While I knew enough to realize that IEW was a perfect approach for my reluctant writers, I just couldn't make it work in the real world. I was a total IEW failure.

When I found out I'd be getting TWSS and Student Writing Intensive Level C (SWI), along with a set of portable walls, I was excited.  This would force me to really use the program, and maybe what I really needed was Andrew teaching my son instead of me trying to do it.

Well, I was right. And I was wrong.

First off, being able to watch TWSS over a longer period of time has been amazing. And being able to re-watch the section my children are currently doing is amazing. And being able to just pop it in when I need some encouragement is amazing. Do you get the sense that I think this is amazing?

Connor, age 13-14, dug in to the SWI enthusiastically, as he already has a lot of respect for Mr. Pudewa. It has been wonderful. The basic idea with the SWI sets is that you have video of Andrew teaching a group of kids, and there are assignments and checklists and extras to go along with that.  Here is an excerpt from SWI-C, (SWI-C, by the way, is meant for 8th grade and up):

Connor had this to say: I like having the video presentation, as Mr. Pudewa is more entertaining than my mom. This is a very effective method for writing, and I have particularly enjoyed learning to write reports. Basically, you have specific steps to help you figure out what to write so you don't have to think so much about how to do it. Instead, you can think about what the important and interesting details are and not just copy and paste stuff. Also, the format helps me to narrow things down and not worry that I'm not including every detail I know about a subject. I like condensing the info. That's probably my favorite part.

Back to me. There are a number of things I love about using IEW and specifically SWI:
  • I don't have to try to be entertaining. Andrew does that for me.
  • There is a syllabus all set up and I don't have to think about how much is enough or how much is too much.  No prep time, aside from rewatching TWSS as I think is necessary.
  • At the same time, it is really easy for me to pick and choose a bit as to what we will actually do.  Skip extra assignments, adjust the pacing.  SWI doesn't force me into a rigid structure.
  • The class in the DVD is real kids asking real questions and offering real suggestions. When someone makes a goofy suggestion, Andrew is amazing at gently correcting and teaching so that not only the live class, but those of us in the video class, get it.
  • Connor frequently has a smile on his face as he is doing his writing. That is worth a lot more than the cost of these materials.
  • The TWSS teaches me to teach writing. The SWI models it even better.
  • Although it isn't recommended, I can have Connor do at least parts of this pretty independently
Remember I mentioned our not so positive IEW experience with a theme-based lesson plan? Well, we decided to take the plunge and try again. William and Thomas are studying the Middle Ages this year, so we purchased the Medieval History-Based Theme program from IEW. I'm not sure if it is because of watching TWSS more slowly, or because of my experience watching SWI, or a combination of both, but I am finding it so much easier to teach it now.  I do think that not having Connor in the mix is a factor too, as his "Can we move on!" attitude didn't help his struggling brothers.  Also, the new versions that have both a student and teacher book just seem so much more wonderful!

From my incredibly reluctant writer, William, after finishing the first lesson of Medieval History: "Can I do another paragraph? This is fun. I actually like writing this way. The only part I don't really like is having to [hand]write the Key Word Outline. That's tiring."

I plan to continue with IEW. This fall, Connor will start doing American history, and I plan to use the US History-Based theme programs for him. William and Thomas will be doing Ancient History, so we'll be doing that theme program. Richard and Trina are going to use the new Primary Arts of Language, which I talked about last week.  Further down the road, we may look at doing a DVD-based continuation course

The items I talked about here include:
  • Teaching Writing Structure and Style: available for $169.  This is the best teacher training investment I can imagine.  And it has a very high resale value.  Or if it doesn't work, IEW's return policy is phenomenal.
  • Student Writing Intensive C: available for $99 (or in a set with TWSS for $239).  You can use this with all of your children, just making copies of some of the pages.  Or you can purchase additional copies of the student materials.  If you do this fast (15 weeks) that is less than $7 per week, and that is if you only use it with one student.  That is a bargain.
  • Portable Walls:  available for $7.  Very helpful.  I'd recommend one for each student you have using IEW.
  • The various theme based sets.  The ones I mentioned are each $49 for a student and teacher set.  
  • Primary Arts of Language -- well, go read my post about that. 
IEW has products for literature, spelling, poetry, grammar, speech and more.  Everything they put out seems to have at least some teacher training to it, which is one of the things I adore about the company.

You can check out what some of my fellow crewmates had to say about IEW and the various Student Writing Intensive levels at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive Teaching Writing Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive C, and the Portable Walls in exchange for my review of the product.  Other products mentioned were purchased by me.  All opinions are my own, and receiving complimentary products does not factor in to my opinions.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.


Jennifer said...

I introduced Andrew Pudewa for his seminar at the Montana Homeschool conference in Great Falls a few years ago. He spoke on the challenge of teaching boys. If you haven't heard that class, it is really good.

Merit Kirkpatrick said...

Great review Debra!

Rodna said...

Great review Debra! I almost called you Deb. lol

Can you tell me how the theme based units are? I have looked at them online, as i am thinking of doing one of them next, but there is not a lot of detail as to how they work.

Thank Debra.

purple squirrel said...

Great "re-write", Debra!
It's hard to be succinct with something like this, but you accomplished that very well!

Ashley said...

Thanks for your post! We've been using Writing Strands for 3 years & my son just does not like it at all. I keep plugging through - but it is tough. I have looked @ IEW briefly & keep avoiding because I already have WS all the way through high school & I don't want to spend more money! But - now my 2nd grader is getting ready to begin more formal writing & I am not seeing the growth I had hoped for in my son's - it's back to reading reviews again! I go to convention Friday & hope to stop by his booth - so reading your review encouraged me to take another look.