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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: The Write Foundation

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When homeschooling mama, Rebecca Celsor, took on teaching writing in a co-op, she searched high and low for the just the right curriculum. It should be easy to follow and take the kiddos step-by-step through the process of developing their writing from the foundations up…but when she couldn’t find it, she found herself writing her own curriculum: The Write Foundation.

This complete writing curriculum is divided into 3 levels:

  1. Sentence to Paragraph Writing (ages 11-13)
  2. Paragraph Writing (ages 12-15)
  3. Essay Writing (ages 14-17)

Each level contains a total of 30 lessons, which can be taught over the course of a year, or take 2 weeks for each lesson and stretch the course over 2 years. The complete curriculum includes the spiral-bound instruction manuals, loose worksheets and a cd-rom containing teacher’s presentations (example worksheets for teaching purposes), reading lists, grading sheets, word games, check lists, and weekly assignments. You will also need to purchase a 3-ring binder, 8 dividers, 6 different colored highlighters, and Mind Benders from Critical Thinking Co. (MB is optional, but a worthwhile addition). You will also need a Thesaurus and a dictionary.

For this review I received Level 1: Sentence to Paragraph Writing Lessons 1-15 to use with 10-year-old David. David is a strong writer for his age. He has a good grasp of language and sentence structure, but needs some help with organizing his thoughts…a paragraph can run to a whole page, if you know what I mean. He also tends to be a bit reluctant about writing…he’s grown out of this some the past year or so, but writing things out, especially with paper and pencil is generally not his idea of a fun time (unless it’s his idea). The Write Foundation is specially geared towards reluctant writers, so I thought this would be a good fit. Having known students when I was in college who needed to visit the Writing Center every week for remedial tutoring, I know how important it is to get the right foundation.

What we like:

David is enjoying this curriculum. When I first told him we would be starting a new writing program, he groaned. Now that he’s writing silly sentences and creating concrete and acrostic poetry, he’s not demanding to do it every day, but he’s not complaining about it (always a good sign). The assignments are pretty fun and encourage him to expand his vocabulary by using a Thesaurus and a dictionary. He likes that the final assignments to be graded must be typed (handwriting is still an issue for him).

I like that the program is incremental, so he doesn’t have to try to wrestle a paragraph into shape right away. We began by marking up sentences for subjects and verbs, and learning how to add more interesting language to his sentences. We’ll eventually move on to outlining ideas and finally writing full paragraphs.

The forays into poetry add variety and an appreciation for language. The poetry in the Write Foundation is not what you would call high art. I do have a little bit of concern about this…I don’t want to foster the idea that a poem is just something that rhymes, but I also don’t want poetry to seem like some inaccessible thing not to be enjoyed. I know from experience that poetry writing can have a very positive impact on a writer’s other writings. We’ve learning about alliteration (an effective tool in other writing, too) and how the physical shape of a poem can convey a message.

The teaching sessions are a joint effort---David likes that we are working together---to cement the idea, then he does his “homework” (independent work) on his own. The technique here is almost perfect. Personal experience has shown me that telling the kiddos how to do something, or even showing them how to do something, is not really enough to ensure that they get it. We need to do it together. And not just 1-2 examples, but several times so they are comfortable with what they are doing. The Write Foundation gives you plenty of examples to do with your kiddos (almost too many, really, but you don’t have to use them all). By the time I send David off to do his own work, I know that he knows what he’s doing.

What we tweaked:

Ms. Celsor does state in the introduction that you should change the curriculum as you need to …do not feel you are a slave to it. Of course, she knows that this is what homeschoolers do best.

Keeping in mind that this curriculum really was designed for a co-op, there are some things that we found weren’t necessary in our home situation. The 8-dividers were a little confusing at first, but I’ve found that we really don’t use all of them (I grade assignments right away, for instance, so no need to have a separate section for things waiting to be graded).

Some of the suggested activities don’t really work as well in a home situation, (like interviewing other students in lesson 3), but alternatives are sometimes offered.

I found some of the independent assignments to be too long, partly because by the time David gets to doing the independent work, he’s already done the bulk of the teaching session’s work (with some input from Mom). Here’s an example: For Lesson one, one teaching session involved writing several silly sentences using alliterating words. While David and I technically did this together, the sentences came from him, I just wrote them on the whiteboard, he copied them and then he highlighted the parts. The independent assignment required him to write 10 more sentences on his own. Since I already knew he got it, this seemed a bit too much, and I didn’t want a rebellion on my hands, so I assigned 5 sentences. He surprised me by having so much fun with it that he wrote 8 sentences.

What needs improvement:

While the overall curriculum is well organized and progresses logically, the week to week lessons are a bit of a jumble. The information to teach is presented in one order, but when you get to the assignment page at the end of the lesson, the days are laid out in a different order. For example, in Lesson 2, Concrete Poetry is presented last in the teacher’s notes, and yet the assignment schedule has it at day 2 for the week. The flipping back and forth and trying to figure out where I was at simply didn’t work for me, so I just worked from the teaching notes and ignored the assignment page. Worked ok, except the teaching notes don’t always have all the assignments to be given…oops! That’s another inconsistency.

I also found a number of typographical errors, some grammatical mistakes and so forth, things that require an editor’s eye. I wouldn’t give a curriculum a thumbs down on this basis alone (I know how easy it is to make these mistakes, blush), but it is distracting in a curriculum designed to teach writing. There were also some gaffes in the teaching notes where answers were being given for worksheets (verbs that were supposed to be highlighted, but weren’t, for instance) and inconsistencies between what at least one worksheet had on it and the the manual said it had on it. Minor little things, but they might be obstacles to someone who’s not confident in teaching this subject.

The curriculum was shipped with the worksheets loose…and a teeny bit crumpled. I’d like to see these packed more carefully.

Overall:

I like the idea of the program and what the author is trying to achieve. While I don’t think the execution is spot on, The Write Foundation is definitely a worthwhile program and I can see that it’s accomplishing the goals in mind. We will continue to use it. I don't know that I would purchase lessons 16-30...the price seems a bit steep for the materials included, but I’m a cheapskate. UPDATE 11-15-10: The Write Foundation has reduced their prices (current prices reflected below) and the author is revising the curriculum to make it more homeschool friendly.

Price:

The Write Foundation Curriculum Bundles (Includes instruction manuals, printed worksheets, and cd-rom with additional resources to print):

Level 1 complete (includes lessons 1-30): $100 $69.95 plus tax and shipping

Level 1 (lessons 1-15 or lessons 16-30): $65 $39.95 plus tax and shipping

You can also purchase the instruction manuals and worksheets separately.

Sample lesson plans available here.

Also available: Level 2 and Level 3

See more reviews of this product and of levels 2 and 3 on the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free copy of the product reviewed in order to review it. I received no other compensation. The opinions expressed are my own.

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