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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WriteShop Primary: An Incremental Writing Program for K-3

is known for their incremental writing program designed for high schoolers, but did you know about their new program for your primary kiddos? As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was recently given (for review purposes) a copy of WriteShop Primary Book A, the first book in their new 3-book series by Nancy I. Sanders that's designed for grades K-3.

The main goal of WriteShop Primary is to develop a love of writing in your children from an early age through a gentle, activity-filled program with plenty of one-on-one time between teacher and student. This is not a workbook, but a detailed outline to guide you in guiding your child. The introduction begins with a careful explanation of each part of the program and the purpose behind it, as well as suggestions for creating a permanent or portable "writing center" with all the supplies and tools you and your child will need for the lessons.

As you read the introduction, you'll need to decide what schedule you want to use; there are three options:
  • Take 3 weeks for each lesson (3 books in 3 years),
  • take 2 weeks for each lesson and use the book for 20 weeks (3 books in 2 years),
  • or take 1 week for each lesson and use the book for 10 weeks (all 3 books in a year).
The schedule you choose will depend largely upon the development of your child and the time you want to spend on the lessons each day.

The book is divided into 10 lessons, each covering a different main idea and having its own theme. For example, the focus for Lesson 2 is "Personal Writing" and the theme is "I am special." The focus for Lesson 5 is "Constructing a Beginning, Middle, and End" and the theme is "Trains." In the beginning of each lesson you will find an overview of the lesson, including materials to be gathered. You'll also find a master supply list and a list of picture book suggestions in the appendix.

Each lesson is divided into 8 "activity sets." Each activity set begins with a Guided Writing Practice (GWP). This is basically a short warm-up exercise and your teaching time for the lesson. The idea is to model writing for your young child, including left to right progression, proper spelling, and punctuation. All the while you will discuss what you are writing with your child, leading her to develop complete ideas and express them through complete sentences and, eventually, paragraphs. The first activity set for each lesson is simply the GWP. The other activity sets for each lesson are:
  • pre-writing activity- reading a picture book to help illustrate some aspect of writing
  • brainstorming-developing ideas for the writing project
  • writing project-the main event
  • editing-not correction, but an opportunity to make changes
  • worksheet-an activity to reinforce the lesson and practice developmental skills
  • publishing project-a fun way to "publish" the writing project
  • evaluation and additional activities-evaluation sheets are provided to chart your child's progress, as well as additional activities to go further
Book A is aimed at children as young as kindergarten level on up to 2nd grade, depending upon ability. The lessons begin very simply and gradually become more challenging, but the overall approach is very gentle. There are plenty of creative, hands-on activities to keep your child's interest. There are options given in each lesson for adapting the program to your child's level, including "Smaller Steps" for pre-writers/pre-readers and "Flying Higher" for more advanced writers. The majority of the actual physical writing is designed to be done by you, the teacher, with the child contributing ideas and writing according to her ability. Your kindergartener might be most comfortable dictating to you, while your 2nd grader might be able to do most of the writing himself. Each lesson gives detailed instructions on how to guide your child towards the desired goal, with examples of dialog between parent and child, as well as writing samples.

5-year-old Mary was thrilled with the idea of trying out her very own writing program. We got as far as the second lesson with the theme "I Am Special," using the lesson a week schedule, which involves doing 2 activity sets per day. If not on a tight review schedule with a new baby in the house, I would probably use the 3-week schedule, but wanted to get far enough into the program to see what it's really like.

Ordinarily, I would avoid using a highly structured program with such young children and my first reaction was less than wholly positive. I don't really, as a real, believe in pushing writing on little ones. Funny thing is, though, what the little ones are really doing with Book A is more like narration. The Guided Writing Practices are not written by the child, but the parent. The ideas come from the child and your job is more to help her organize her ideas. The book contains plenty of suggestions for encouraging your reluctant "narrator," as well as ideas for helping guide your child towards more organized narrations. The dialog examples seemed a bit too "pushy" in their tone (basically telling the child how to express their thoughts), but I had no problem taking the basic idea and following Mary's lead. As with most homeschool materials, you take what you need and leave the rest.

I found the worksheets to be very similar to those you'll find in any pre-K or K workbook and probably really unnecessary for the program to work, but a nice touch if your kiddos like worksheets. Since the reproducible worksheets are sold separately, you can choose whether to add them or not.

The arty/hands-on part comes with the publishing projects which tend to involve large sheets of construction paper, and plenty of stickers and will quickly become a challenge to figure out how to store them all. But, again, some can be modified. For Lesson 2, for example, the publishing project was to create a book, "About Me," using a full-sized paper plate (decorated like a face by your child) for the cover and construction paper circles for the pages. I used all construction paper circles cut to a smaller size (less paper waste) simply because we don't use or buy paper plates and it worked just fine. Mary felt a bit limited by this project because the program dictates what the book will be about and what to include in it, but this frustration spurred her on to create another book of her own design. She is now working on a book about her family.

The program has a lot of possibilities, and if I continue with it, I'll probably use it more like a guideline as opposed to structured program. Part of the fun of resources is changing them to fit your own unique needs. The daily GWPs give plenty of opportunity for narration practice. The "themes" for the lessons can be tweaked to better fit your child's interests or whatever you happen to reading at the time, and I like the logical progression of the lessons. You'll go from personal writing, to thinking of ideas to write about, to selecting a title, and so on.

WriteShop Primary Book A is available directly from WriteShop for $26.95 in a spiral-bound book, or order the e-book for $24.25 and save yourself an additional $5 in shipping. The activity pack is reproducible for your own family and sells as loose sheets for $4.95 or can be downloaded for $4.50.

Personally, this is a book that I would want in physical form as you'll want to refer to the pages as you are teaching, so consider purchasing the physical copy of the book and downloading the activity sheets so you can readily print them from your computer.

WriteShop Primary Books B (1st-3nd grade) and C (2nd-3rd grade) will be available later this year.

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