Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing with Sharon Watson (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Sharon Watson is a favorite curriculum writer in our house.  Luke used her curriculum as a high school freshman, and things just clicked for him.  I've often tried to get him to let me use his books with Matthew, but he wasn't letting them out of his sight.  If I didn't know better, you'd think he was a German Shepherd guarding a toddler.  Lucky for Matthew,  there is a new version - The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition is now available from Writing with Sharon Watson.

This is Matthew's second experience with Ms. Watson's curricula (you can read our review of her Illuminating Literature - Luke enjoyed it so much that I purchased a second set of materials for Matthew), so he already was familiar with her easy writing style.  Her writing is written with a teenage audience in mind.  Too often I hear "This is boring!" when it comes to reading an assignment because the author either dumbs things down or writes on a level that flies over a high schooler's head.  All of Sharon Watson's curricula is written in a tone that is engaging to the student.

The second edition isn't terribly different from the first, in terms of content and scope of study.   It includes different styles of essay (persuasive, objective, etc.) as well as other types of writing that are important in both an academic and business atmosphere. In all, there are 21 different styles covered.  If you need to know it, it's in this program.  However, what makes it stand out from the first one is there are explicit daily lessons.  This was a huge help for Matthew.  It created clear expectations on what he was supposed to do in a day, rather than him trying to guess how much was "enough" work, or falling so far behind that he wound up spending all day on a single assignment.

Since I was familiar with the student edition from Luke's use, I focused my learning on the Teacher's Guide. There were some great points that I truly hadn't realized.  Because I enjoy writing, I can easily write a "larger" amount fairly quickly.  As I work with things to review, in my head I'm composing my outline and a very rough idea of what I want to say, so when it's time to write a review it is mainly an issue of me gathering and organizing my thoughts, then putting fingers to keys and typing.  However, the Teacher's Guide for The Power in Your Hands points out that the average student takes an hour to compose a 100-word essay.  This was a bit of an eye-opener to me because I can easily write a 500+ word review in about three hours.  It has helped me temper my expectations for how long it really takes -- and how long I should realistically expect -- Matthew to take with an assignment.

I also appreciated a clear guide to grading.  Often, there is an argument here over whether an assignment is completed "well enough."  One can imagine that often, my idea of "sufficient" and Matthew's don't always match.  In both the Student's and Teacher's guides, there are explicit explanations of what earns a particular grade.   Questions ranging from slightly more subjective "Has the student communicated his ideas clearly and expressed them well?" to extremely concrete "Was the paper handed in on time?" and "Did the student follow the written directions?"  help both of us when it comes time to evaluate his writing. These helped him understand that yes, on time matters, but also content needs to be pertinent and well-presented, and not just following directions of "Write a 3-5 sentence paragraph" that turns out to be three uncoordinated sentences written one after the other in paragraph form.

I'm happy Matthew finally has his very own copy of The Power in Your Hands.  I'm hopeful that with such structured assignments and clear expectations, Matthew's skills at writing will grow and soon enough I'll find myself the former teacher of a pack of book-guarding writers.

For more about Sharon Watson and her reading/writing programs, follow her on social media or click the green banner for more crew reviews.


Writing with Sharon Watson Review

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