Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Resource Set (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

IEW Resources - Timeline of Classics, A Word Write Now, and Teaching with Games Review

Institute for Excellence in Writing is one of the most respected names in homeschooling.  Last year Luke and Matthew started using Fix It! Grammar, and I loved it so much that when Celia needed some extra help, we ordered a different level for her.  I've had my eye on a few of their other programs, but was intrigued by their resource programs.  I was very happy to review copies of Timeline of Classics: Historical Context for the Good and Great Books, A Word Right Now: A Thematic Thesaurus for Stylized Writing, and a Teaching with Games set.

Timeline of Classics

Timeline of Classics was the resource I was most looking forward to, because we don't use pre-set history and literature curricula.  Instead, we have been using a timeline for events for our spine, and then adding in resources that have been either set in that era or written about that era. This way, I can choose books and videos that I think are going to be most engaging and that the boys will be able to really use to their full advantage.  However, there is one major disadvantage to creating our own courses -- it's a LOT of work finding great resources.  I am loving this compilation, because it covers from history from Early Civilizations (c. 5000 BC) to post 9/11 (2001) and spans nearly 90 pages, so nearly every major topic is covered.  The list is divided into four epochs: 

Ancients - 5000 BC - AD 400
The Middle Ages - AD 400 - 1450
Renaissance and Reformation  - 1450 - 1850
The Modern World - 1850 - present

Resources are presented in chronological order, and the spiral binding makes it really easy to hold your place - you don't have to constantly re-search for your next resource.  A date/event leads off the listing, so that you can easily correlate what you're studying with the timeline. The listing then suggests appropriate titles (both books and film), and lists identifying characteristics of the resources.  If it's a book, the author and/or translator is listed; if it's a film, the headlining actor(s) are listed to help identify a particular rendition.  (For example, for the 1757/French and Indian War era, this suggests the film The Last of the Mohicans, specifying the 1936 Randolph Scott version, rather than the more recent Daniel Day Lewis that many might be more familiar with.)  This makes integrating history and literature so much simpler, because it provides both history studies as well as classic literature.

Finally, the list codes what age level the resource is most appropriate for.  I really appreciate this feature because it tells me which child the resource is appropriate for so that the boys are neither overwhelmed nor bored.   When I'm working with Jude or Damien, I want to make sure that I'm not choosing something that isn't appropriate for their ages/levels, but when creating a high school level course that is going to prepare Luke and Matthew for college, I want to make sure that they are being adequately challenged.  This resource, while not exhaustive, will help me choose some really good books for them and make my job as "curriculum coordinator" much easier.

A Word Write Now

A Word Write Now is probably going to be one of the most used resources in our house.  In addition to the assignments I give the boys, Celia has at least one writing assignment every other week. This book contains hundreds of vocabulary words that help new writers.  At a first glance, one might think, "Well, why not just use a thesaurus?"  The problem with just using a thesaurus - especially for new writers - is that sometimes the list of suggestions is overwhelming.  When you're looking to exchange a banal word for a novel concept, sometimes there are just too many words to choose from, or the suggestion list includes words that aren't quite right.  We've had some arguments over "But it's on the list!!" even though the alternative may be a word that is a synonym for a different definition. What makes this resource unique is that it sorts words to concept and part of speech.

 Three sections -  Character Traits, Descriptive Words, and Words for Movement and the Senses - along with an Appendix that includes transitions - help you find the word you're looking for.  It also pairs the words with context examples from classic literature and essays, so that you can see examples in use and understand that it's not just the word but how it is used that creates its effectiveness.  Among the featured authors are William Shakespeare, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, and Claude Monet, showing that bold, rich language is not limited to "books" but is important in all writings. One of my favorites is this excerpt from Paul Bunyan by Steven Kellogg:

"To solve the muddle, Paul built a colossal flapjack griddle.  The surface was greased by kitchen helpers with slabs of bacon laced to their feet."

The accompanying example shows how important word choice is to imagery.  The Appendix includes transition words, as well as definitions and examples of literary device that will help the student become adept at word usage in writing.

 At Celia's school, the same teacher teaches all of the middle schoolers writing.  It's the type of book I can see Mrs. S "strongly suggesting" that the 6th graders acquire, because it will prove itself useful throughout their three years with her with her and beyond. This resource will benefit both new writers looking to enhance their essays and poems as well as more seasoned writers who just find themselves at a loss for a specific word. An older writer might look at this and feel that it is too basic for him, but I can guarantee that it's perfect for all ages.  (I admit that I even found myself searching for a word that explained what I wanted to say more effectively for this review, and I found the word I was searching for in this book!)

 Teaching with Games

The third resource we received was the Teaching with Games set.  I thought I would really like this one because I really think that games can be a great way for children to learn.  Fred Rogers is often quoted as saying, "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."  I believe that play should include learning games, because the novelty of a "game instead of bookwork" helps students see learning as something fun, rather than a chore.  Children also often innately competitive and want to win.  The competition motivates students to put forth their best efforts, and gives the teacher a way to evaluate learning without the stress of "a big exam".  We've recently added several games to our homeschool, and I was hopeful that this resource would give us some great ideas for more.  The 3-disc DVD set was a recorded workshop, and demonstrates how to adapt the games in the accompanying book to multiple subjects and student levels.

I liked this resource, and thought it had a lot of great ideas.  Most games were geared toward elementary students.   The DVDs were helpful in showing ways to use the games, and got me thinking about how to tweak them for other topics.  However, the program ultimately wasn't particularly useful for our family.  Often the games suggested were difficult, if not impossible, for a single homeschool student to play alone.  Most required 2-4 players, so it seemed almost unfair for one of the two to be the teacher, and the boys are too far apart in age/level to be able to play most of the suggested games together.  Although there are a few ideas that I think we could adapt (especially the "Make As You Teach" games that easily translate to study guides), I think this resource set is better suited to group learning (a traditional classroom, a co-op, or several children close in age/studying the same topics) than our family.

Once again, IEW has impressed me with the depth of their resource library.  The Timeline of Classics book is great for finding excellent literature and film sources to help bring a historical era or event to life, and A Word Write Now is an idea resource for writers.  Though I think Teaching with Games is better suited to group schoolers, rather than single-student-grade home schoolers, it still has some good ideas and is a worthwhile addition to a teaching library.   I think all of these would be a useful addition to resource shelves!

In addition to the Resource Set, members of the Crew had the opportunity to use IEW's Phonics Zoo program.  Click the banner below to read the reviews, or follow IEW on social media:
Institute for Excellence in Writing Blog

IEW Review

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