Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Fix It Grammar (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Over the past two years we've been homeschooling, I've heard incredible things about Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  I've never heard a bad thing about their programs, regardless of the student's learning style. They seem to be the language arts version of a chameleon - however the student learns, the program adapts to them.  When we were given the opportunity to work with the Fix It! Grammar program, I decided that we needed to try the program ourselves and see what the fuss was about.

IEW Fix It Grammar Review  #grammar #writing #IEW
The Fix It! Grammar program is for students from third through twelfth grades.  There are five levels, that progress from simple grammar identifying nouns and verbs for all ages to the extremely challenging proper placement of colons, semicolons, and active/passive voice.  Each book builds upon the book before; if you're not just beginning with grammar, it is very important to use the Placement Test with your student. Start at the beginning, and then keep going with each lesson until you've exhausted your student's knowledge.  Assuming that since Luke was in high school, he would be able to do a lower level, eighth-grader Matthew took the placement test.  We determined that Book 3, Frog Prince, or Just Deserts was a good place for him to start -- difficult enough to be a challenge, but not so hard that he'd give up.  Since it's suggested for grades six through twelve, it was still appropriately difficult for Luke. 

The program consists of two spiral-bound "Manuals", for each for Student and a Teacher Manual ($15 and $19, respectively).  First point in IEW's favor, and I haven't even gotten into the content:  their copyright allows for use with multiple students in the same family.  We've seen so many programs where it's one student per book, and it gets really pricey (and frustrating!).   Being able to use the same book for two students is fantastic; being able to save it to hand down is even better.  I know there are people who probably just do their own thing and never look at the copyright, but they way my luck runs...I'll be the one that gets into trouble. 

The way the Fix It! program works is to tell a story.  It combines grammar, literature, and handwriting/typing practice, all in about ten or fifteen minutes each day.  Each day, the student corrects one or two sentences from a story, and then copies the corrected sentences.   We found this to be both good and bad.  Because the sentences are not independent, random thoughts to be dissected, there is motivation to keep on going each day.  However, the boys really struggled with paragraph arrangement, because they did not know the entire story.   The manual does indicate if a quotation continues (ie, "don't end with quotation marks because it continues on the next day"), but not if the ideas were contained.  There were several places where I actually would have missed the paragraph breaks had they not been in the teacher's manual.  From an academic perspective, I understand why they were there (and by now, the boys do as well) but while completing the exercise, it was very difficult to see them.

IEW Fix It Grammar Book 3 Weeks 1-22 Scope and Sequence

Each week's lessons builds upon the one prior.  The first week of the program was considered "review." I have not seen prior books, but I imagine the expectations are based on the content of the earlier levels: verbs and their subjects, punctuation, capitalization, etc.  Each week, two or three new concepts are added on - one from each area of grammar.  What is especially nice is the "old" concepts are reviewed in the "new" passages.  Every passage has verbs/subjects to identify and punctuation to practice with; nearly all have prepositional phrases.  Styles of writing (including things like sentence openers, adverb clauses, dangling modifiers) appear in every passage, although which one depends on the sentence.

In addition to grammar corrections/identifications, each day has a vocabulary word (or two!) boldfaced for the student to study.  Many are words we may not use in common speaking -- though it might often describe Celia's reaction to things, I'm not sure the last time I used histrionics in a conversation, and I admit I will be looking up aphorism when we get to Week 19.  However, though many of the words are infrequently used in conversation, knowing the meanings of words like mortification, pretentious, germane, and querulously all are the mark of a well-educated student, and will make the student's own writing stronger.

The books are well laid out.  In the Student Manual, the lessons are on one page, and the days' activities are printed on another, making it easy to copy a worksheet page and share the textbook. At the back of the book are detachable cards with all the rules on them; having them handy helps the student while they're still in the early stages.  With enough practice, they will not need the "rules" to compare a sentence against and it will become instinctive, but until then, there are easy-access notes instead of having to try to remember which week the rule was first presented and flipping through the entire book to find it.

The Teacher's Manual has an image of the student's "lessons for the week" page at the beginning of the week, and then moves into the week's corrections.   I will admit that as much as I love good grammar and generally know it when I see it, I have always struggled to remember the "rules."  I know you put a comma after a participial opener; I just don't know "why."  ("Because you do, and that's the rule." That's why.)  The program explains why, which makes it much easier to teach.  For each day's correction, it shows what the student's passage should look like, so it is very easy to quickly check the day's assignment.  However, each day also includes an itemization of the fixes and explanatory notes.  Again, it was easy to teach/review a concept because we were able to see the rule put into practice,  and why that rule came into play, rather than just a list of rules and trying to figure out which one applied.

IEW Teacher's Manual

I think Fix It! Grammar is an excellent way to learn (and teach) grammar.  In fact, having had all the requisite classes in grammar and composition to earn a minor degree in English, it's probably the most painless way I have ever seen grammar rules presented.  It takes a decidedly dry and often boring aspect of writing, breaks it into small, manageable chunks for learning and then ensures frequent enough practice that they become second nature. The idea of reading a complete story by the end helps keep the practice interesting; at the end of the passage:
King Morton's greatest mortification had occurred two years earlier at a dinner party for the Ambassador of Nordicland.  Taking an Instant dislike to the ambassador's son, who was truthfully a bit of a brat, Dorinda squirted mouthwash from a travel bottle she carried in her purse into his sturgeon roe soup.
the boys were left wanting to know "what happened next," making the next day's practice an anticipated event, rather than a hanging cloud.   I can say that I never anticipated a grammar exercise before now, either! 

There are six levels to the Fix It! Grammar program.  Read reviews of all of them by clicking the banner below, or connect with Institute for Excellence in Writing via Social Media:

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  1. Do you have to do any crazy diagramming sentences or is it just proofreading and fixing?

  2. The tips that you give are all good. It can help a certain student to improve their writing skills in English. Also, in that way, it may lead them in to a good writer who can write well in English language.

    ielts speaking


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