Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing Curriculum

This post is for my good friend Fe @ The Genial Hearth who i have known personally for many years :)  She recently asked me about writing curriculum.  She wanted to know ~

What do you use?
What have you got?
How do you find it?
How does it work for your kids?
How much time/involvement does it need (on your part as well as the kid's)?

So here goes :)

Writing With Ease 1
Not currently in use.  Used 3/4 with Flossy will use with Bugsy when ready, maybe around July.  He needs a bit more work on his handwriting first.

I thought this was a good place to start.  It has copy work and narration exercises (2 x copy work & 2 x narration each week) clearly laid out and includes comprehension questions used before the narration to encourage the child to formulate their thoughts.  SWB narrations and supposed to be short, succinct, summaries of what was read, not long retellings like CM.  On copy work days this was very quick and easy to implement but i didn't need to sit by Flossy to make sure her copy work was perfect, it was 98% of the time.  If you need to sit next to your student it will take from 5-15 minutes depending on how quickly they write and stay focused.  On reading and narration days it took up to 15 minutes working together.  Planning wise if you copy the workbook pages upfront there is nothing more to do than open the book on the day.  This was a good place for us to start.  By the end Flossy was narrating well and i will use it again with Bugsy.

Writing With Ease 2
Not currently in use.  Used 3/4 with Flossy.

This was a no brainer and the next step on from WWE1.  The format changes slightly, day 1 narration, day 2 copywork, day 3 dictation, day 4 narration and dictation.  Often we didn't complete the final dictation as it was dictating from the child's own work or if we did we left it for another day.  The passages were longer and more challenging that WWE1.  The questioning was there to encourage formulation of thoughts.  The student was encouraged to use only 2 or 3 sentences for the narration.  If the workbook pages are copied upfront there is nothing more to do than open the book on the day.  Again the time varied.  Copywork day was quick, the other days were longer perhaps taking up to 20 mins considering reading the passage allowed and answering the questions before narrating.  Flossy was bored with the format of this book by the end.  I'm undecided if i will use this again with Bugsy.

Writing With Ease 3
Not currently in use.

When i purchased this i did think that we would stay the course and continue on with WWE3.  Again the format changes slightly, day 1 narration, day 2 dictation, day 3 narration and dictation, day 4 dictation.  There is finally some direct instruction included in this book to guide the student to write better.  After thinking long and hard about it and where we were going with our other studies i decided not to proceed with this book.  Flossy provides a SWB style narration for history and literature.  She still completes copy work for cursive practice and she does dictation through her spelling program.  Adding WWE3, more of the same was just going to be busy work.  Flossy was also feeling somewhat disillusioned with WWE.  She'd worked hard for 2 years and it was time for a change.  Looking at the lessons i believe you would be looking at 15 - 30 minutes per day.

Galore Park So You Really Want to Learn Junior English Book 2
Currently using with Flossy.

This book is used in prep schools in the UK.  Book 2 is recommended for age 8+ or year 4 up.  It is an all in one style english book so it also covers grammar concepts however it doesn't include enough spelling to stop using another program.  The book contains passages, comprehension questions, writing assignments, grammar exercises, oral presentation suggestions and suggestions of books to read.  The language in the passages is fairly rich, the questions are thought provoking and the writing assignments are interesting and engaging.  Whilst the writing assignments are mostly creative they are specific in their instruction.  We do complete most of this orally however all of the writing assignments are written.  As Flossy is new to creative writing i am providing a level of input.  For example she will give me the brainstorm then i will provide appropriate questioning to flesh out her ideas.  I'm hoping to reduce the level of support as we move on.  We are only in chapter 1 so there is plenty of time to go.  The work is her's but i will scribe or type where necessary.  It is open and go, so there is no preparation time at all.  It takes anywhere from 10 to 30 mins to complete depending which exercises are to be completed that day.  Flossy rates this as her favourite writing program because it's fun and different everyday.

The Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive A
Currently using with Flossy.

After deciding not to proceed with WWE3 i was looking for something that was going to actually provide some 'real' writing instruction.  Flossy was already good at summarising but needed to build some skills.  I was feeling like SWB and CM lead you into a field and don't tell you where the gate is to get out.  They expect you to try and fail, and try and fail and so on until you find the gate and get out.  I am not that kind of a person.  Give me a path or at least a set of directions cause i'm not interested in all the sightseeing along the way.  I just want to get to the other gate!  IEW SWI-A gives you those tools to really help you improve your writing.  Yes it has a formulaic approach and if it's your only writing program i can see how that could cause problems, but given our position it's a winner.  We are taking the pace MUCH slower than what is recommended in the manual, mostly because we are doing LOTS of other writing.  Day 1 watch the DVD lesson, day 2 identify the key words on the hand out, day 3 write the key word outline, day 4 draft the re-write, day 5 edit the rewrite with me, day 6 type up the final copy.  These 'days' are not always consecutive.  The time commitment varies from 10 - 30 minutes a session.  We are probably doing 1 'assignment' per fortnight.  I work directly with Flossy on day 1 and 5 and just oversee on the other days.  It is open and go provided you copy the handouts first.  I actually really like this program and can see how it is going to make Flossy a much better writer.

Killgallon Story Grammar for Elementary School & Killgallon Sentence Composing for Elementary School
Currently using with Flossy.

I'm lumping both of these in together because they are VERY similar and had i known that i may have only purchased one.  Which one, well, I think I probably would have purchased Sentence Composing and taken it VERY slowly.  As i have both we are starting with Story Grammar and will move on to Sentence Composing after.  Essentially these books cover the same kind of material although Story Grammar is gentler, ok, don't take that the wrong way, these books are challenging!  Don't be fooled by the title 'Story Grammar', both books focus on how to write a great sentence and the grammar is thrown in.  In Story Grammar they refer to grammar as 'tools' but in Sentence Composing they use the proper terminology.  The focus is on imitation.  Model sentences are provided from high interest children's literature, various exercises are conducted, then the children write their own imitations of the original sentence.  Flossy is finding this challenging, finding just the write words, the correct phrasing, the correct grammar, it can be difficult so we are only working 1 or 2 sentences per day.  It is open and go, I work with Flossy and it takes us around 10 minutes of full concentration.  Flossy is really enjoying this.

According to Heinemann, the publishers, Story Grammar is intended for grades 2-6 and Sentence Composing grades K-5.  I consider this WRONG.  Story Grammar should certainly come first and i suggest a more appropriate grade reflection would be Story Grammar grades 3-5 and Sentence Composing grades 4-6.  There is also a middle school program.

With Pencil and Pen ~ Sarah Louise Arnold ~ Vintage
Not currently in use.  Will use with Bugsy when ready probably around the same time as starting WWE1.

This is a very sweet book which covers copy work and very beginning composition.  A struggling speller will find the composition exercises hard work if writing for himself as intended.  The text is recommended for early elementary.  We will probably do some of the composition work orally or with me scribing to relieve some of the burden on the hand for Bugsy.  I will pick and choose what we complete from this book.  I anticipate each lesson lasting around 10 minutes.  This is open and go.

First Book in English ~ William Henry Maxwell ~ Vintage
Currently using with Flossy.

This is the kind of text used in a one room school house many years ago  It is recommended for a child beginning no earlier than his 3rd year at school, so would be appropriate for 3rd, 4th or 5th grades.  Maxwell has done a good job of weaving imitation, grammar, punctuation and composition into this text.  If you complete the book as written there is quite a bit of physical writing involved.  We pick and choose the exercises we do orally and those we do written.  We do not edit and polish the composition, we just use it to practice our skills.  The lessons are short, around 10 minutes although i do break up the composition if necessary.  If the child were to complete everything in writing it would take longer, but could be completed independently as the text is written to the student.  This is open and go.  Flossy is on the fence about this one.

Primary Lessons in Language and Composition ~ Willian Henry Maxwell ~ Vintage
Not currently in use.

This book is intended for use before First Book in English.  The suggestion is once the child can read and write to facility approx 18m after beginning school, perhaps allocating it to grade 2 would be appropriate.  Again the exercises look short and achievable.  Exercises are in copy work, observation, discussion.  There is an oral section and a written section to each lesson.  I am unsure if we will use this book at this point in time.

The Poetry Pad
Used periodically with Flossy and Bugsy.  This is a supplement and is not in any way an entire writing curriculum.  We pull this book out from time to time.  It provides examples of a number of different types of poems and then explains how to write that kind of poem.  These sessions are a bit of fun and generally last around 20-30 minutes.

So in a nutshell i am using IEW and Killgallon to learn the new skills and Galore Park and Maxwell to practice the new skills in a different setting.  In my honest opinion there is no point blindly following a program and not being able to write outside that program.  My aim for my children is to write well across the curriculum.  I'm not too worried about creative writing, if that interest's them then that's fine but it is not a barrow i am going to push unless they are interested (Flossy is).  I also think that's it's important to provide plenty of variety.  There is no point writing in the same way day after day because you end up just going through the motion instead of really thinking about your writing.

The Well Trained Mind Forums always have someone who's talking about writing curriculum.  Here are a couple of interesting threads from well respected board members addressing writing.

lewelma ~ My evaluation of numerous writing curricula

Medieval Mom ~ Construct a S&S for Grammar from Vintage ebooks

Well, i hope that you find my ramblings somewhat helpful.  I've sat down about a dozen times to write bits of this over the course of the day so sorry if it sounds a little disjointed in places.  Feel free to ask, if i've not been clear or you want to know more :)



  1. Most excellent:-) Thanks for doing this:-)

    The two here I'd noted to consider were WWE (although, I was thinking that level 1 was probably not what he needed—given your comments about developing the narration though, maybe it would still be worthwhile... Hmm... I haven't really used that portion of the Activity Guide for SotW, though... maybe that would help) and IWE (except that every time I look at their website, I get confused:-( There's too many potential headings:-( I plan to have another look, now that I know what bits you and K both have). Do you have the 'adult' DVDs as well? Or just the ones you use with Flossy?

    The two others that keep leaping to my attention are Classical Writing (although, the potential one on one commitment has me a little wary) and Bravewriter (where I'm not sure about whether it's sufficiently formal).

    I do feel rather as though a mix and match approach is going to be necessary (I've managed to avoid it for everything else! found _one_ thing and been happy with how it works... but maybe for this, I'll have to be a bit more piecemeal:-( )

    1. I think given the age of your student it would quickly become mundane if you were to start with WWE1. I think you would need to telescope WWE1 & 2 to make it a 1 year program. If you were to use SOTW questions and narrations that would certainly help. In fact you could probably so that instead of WWE1 and step straight into WWE2.

      My big beef with WWE is whilst SWB encourages the child to pick out the main points she isn't teaching them how to put it down well, using good words. That's where IEW really shines. It directly teaches the child to make their work stronger. I don't have the teacher DVDs, only the DVDs to the student.

      Don't look past the vintage texts. As freebies there is lots of good stuff there.

      I don't know enough about CW to properly comment. I've heard mixed things about Bravewriter. On the bad side I've heard that its more a book full of suggestions about enriching your lifestyle and promoting writing but it isn't a how to guide. On the plus side she has some nice ideas like tea time, movie time and free writes which if your not already doing these things could be neat to add.

  2. And facebook has just told me that HSBC has Bravewriter at 50% off... which means I may just start by getting that ($40 instead of $80 for the digital version—which I'd be choosing to avoid shipping). That at least is apparently sufficiently broad (being more of a 'teaching writing in general', rather than being a 'specifically detailed for one level' programme) that I should almost certainly get enough use from it to justify:-)

    I read those links... the first in particular was very interesting (does rather reinforce my interest in CW... but it doesn't set my mind at rest about the teaching time:-( )

  3. If you do go ahead with Bravewriter I will be interested to hear what you think about it.

    That link is good. I note that she is starting her progression at grade 5 with CW. I think you could easily start with WWE style narration perhaps via SOTW activity guide and include some Bravewriter ideas. You could use the next 2 years to work towards CW if that's what you want and start there. You might have a better idea of how much time you can commit at that point too, along with how independent or otherwise CW might be at a slightly higher level.

    I do think you should take a good look at IEW though. I have posted a sample of Flossy's work under the writing tab in my sidebar. K might be able to show you some of her children's work too.


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