(Last Updated on October 23, 2023)
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Writing is one of those subjects that puts fear in the hearts of homeschooling parents everywhere. After all, it’s been enshrined as one of the historic “3 R’s” so we’d better not mess it up, right?
Even if we aren’t aiming to raise the next Dickens or Tolkien, at the very least we want our kids to be able to write a professional cover letter or a college application essay.
Whether it’s due to this anxious parental desire to find the “right” writing curriculum, or simply because of IEW’s marketing efforts, I can’t say; but more homeschoolers have asked me about my experience with Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) than any other program we’ve used.
In a previous post, I shared my general thoughts about the IEW company and its founder, Mr. Pudewa. Here we’ll focus on IEW’s core writing curriculum and the experience my family has had using the following courses:
- Student Writing Intensive (SWI) Level A (updated version is SSS Year 1 Level A)
- Student Intensive Continuation Course (SICC) Level A (updated version is SSS Year 2 Level A)
- Structure and Style for Students (SSS) Year 1 Level B
For those of you new to IEW, SSS is the revised core writing program offered by IEW. SWI and SICC were the older versions and are now discontinued.
The pros and cons I talk about here apply to the old and new versions alike.
IEW Writing Curriculum Pros
Here are some of the things I love best about the IEW curricula we’ve used for writing:
- It’s video based. In other words… I don’t have to teach it! Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy writing (in fact, I enjoy it so much I wrote a book). And I do enjoy teaching my kids. But teaching writing to my kids is a whole other thing… a thing I’m happy to delegate to Mr. Pudewa.
- The instruction is excellent. This teacher knows his stuff and knows how to communicate it well to students of all ages.
- IEW uses an incremental, mastery approach. This curriculum is rigorous but not overwhelming. It introduces one thing at a time, very clearly, with built-in review for mastery-based learning. Kids aren’t asked to do anything they haven’t been trained how to do.
- IEW writing courses are organized well. I suppose this more structured approach could be a con for some people, but my kids and I appreciate the orderly nature of the program. We seem to do better when we have a path laid out and we know what’s expected of us. IEW uses a very logical approach to teaching and learning.
- Mr. Pudewa is funny. In our homeschool, we’ve found humor to be one of our best tools. If someone is frustrated or anxious about a difficult assignment, a joke or silly comment can help lighten the mood and save the day from a downward spiral. The jokes at the beginning of each IEW lesson set the mind of even the most writing-phobic student at ease.
- The videos are full-length classes. These lessons aren’t just little five minute snippets of helpful writing tips. The lessons range from about thirty to sixty minutes each and are full of quality teaching. I really feel like I’m getting a good value for my money with the amount of content covered.
- It’s formatted like a real class. Each lesson is a true class, recorded in front of a classroom of real kids, with actual interaction between the kids and teacher on the video. It flows well and doesn’t seem contrived or scripted. And there are plenty of examples of actual student work and real kids’ Q&A for my students to observe and learn from.
- It helps kids focus on learning writing skills. The IEW method takes away the “staring-at-a-blank-sheet-of-paper-and-not-knowing-where-to-start” problem. Content (like paragraphs, short stories, articles, etc.) is initially provided with each of the lessons. Kids make an outline from the source and then re-write in their own words to practice the new skills taught in the lesson. My kids have really benefited from this approach since it takes the pressure off. They can work on how to write and not be bogged down with what to write. Later in the year, once they’ve mastered several writing skills, then they start communicating their own unique content, too.
- The checklists are very easy to use. This is one of my favorite parts of the IEW writing curriculum. Grading checklists are provided for every assignment and they aren’t vague rubrics. They don’t include subjective checkboxes like “the paper includes several powerful points” and other exasperating requirements. IEW checklists remove the guesswork and subjectivity from grading and editing. Kids and parents both know what’s expected of them.
- The assignments are flexible enough to allow for different writing styles. Despite the specific requirements in IEW writing lessons (for example, each paragraph must include at least one adverb, one “because” clause, etc.), there’s still room for creativity. Papers done by my two boys have been quite different at times, even when based on the same source story.
- This curriculum works for all types of students. One of my sons used to hate (and I mean hate) writing before we started IEW. After three years of IEW writing lessons, he now says writing is actually enjoyable for him! My other son, who already loved writing, is now in his second year using IEW. He’s been challenging himself with extra self-assigned writing projects and seems to love it more than ever!
- It’s worth the money. When I consider the quality and content we’re getting with IEW writing courses, I know I’ve gotten a good deal. And each time I use the program with my next child, I do a little happy homeschooling mom dance knowing the curriculum is giving us even more value for our money.
- IEW has an excellent return policy. We’ve never needed to return anything but, before I knew if IEW would work for us, it helped me to know I could return products for a full refund if needed. Like I said in this post, I’m really impressed with the IEW company and have only had positive interactions with them.
IEW Writing Curriculum Cons
Overall we’ve loved IEW writing courses, but no curriculum is perfect. Here are a few aspects I didn’t love:
- In the SWI/SICC versions, video time-stamps were a pain sometimes. In the new SSS version, this issue has been completely resolved. But, in case you’re looking to buy older versions secondhand, you’ll find the lesson plan does list the time-stamps for when to start/stop the videos, but it wasn’t as user-friendly as I would’ve liked.
- Hour-long lessons are a little too long for younger kids. Some of the lessons are close to an hour of content which, in my opinion, is a bit much for elementary kids (especially if they have other screen-time activities that day, too). The easy fix for us has been to split those longer lessons over 2 days.
- The mastery approach can be repetitive. The IEW core writing program uses the same teaching methods throughout all levels. Earlier, I said this is a “pro” for us – we generally like incremental, mastery-based teaching. But I’ve found it beneficial to expose my kids to different teaching styles and materials from time to time. One year we really changed things up and did several units of creative writing courses as a family. And this year my oldest son is using Jump In Middle School Composition for a change of pace. But, he’ll likely be back to IEW courses in his high school years (IEW SSS Level C or maybe their themed writing courses) since they provide such clear, solid instruction.
- The upfront cost might be an issue. Even though I said the curriculum is worth the money (and it is), it’s still a significant cost. For tips on making room in the budget for high-quality curricula, check out the money-saving strategies I talk about in this series.
- There’s a lot of writing in this writing class. I know, I know. That’s the point, right? I would expect there’d be writing in a writing class. But in our IEW courses and other writing curricula we’ve used, I’ve occasionally let younger kids dictate their paragraphs or even *gasp* skip copying a final draft once in a while. Typing (instead of writing by hand) or splitting up longer papers over multiple days are other strategies we’ve used to avoid burnout. Whether it’s IEW or any other product, remember the curriculum is a tool, not your master!
- It’s not 100% open and go. Then again, few curricula truly are. A little setup to get the student binder and tabs organized is needed at the beginning of the year. After that, parents may want to watch IEW’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style (TWSS) videos and/or watch at least the first few lessons of SSS (or SWI/SICC) with their child to get the idea of the program. Incidentally, I’ve found the IEW podcast and their other audio recordings to be really helpful “teacher training,” too. You’ll want to at least skim the lesson plans so you can keep up with the information your student is learning.
- IEW’s core writing course is not a complete language arts program. I guess this isn’t really a con since it doesn’t claim to be an all-in-one curriculum. But the
lazyefficient part of me wishes this one course could do it all. SSS does include some grammar and editing practice (Note: if you buy the package versions, FixIt! Grammar is included and does cover grammar thoroughly). And some coverage of spelling and vocabulary is built-in naturally as a part of the editing process. But you’d need to either use separate programs for those subjects or intentionally incorporate those other aspects into your writing class since they’re not really a focus of the core writing program.
Overall, we’ve found this curriculum to be an effective mix of private tutoring and classroom learning all in the context of our customizable homeschool experience.
The IEW core writing programs – both the older SWI/SICC versions and the newer SSS version – have been a tremendous blessing for our family. I’m so thankful that my kids have had the opportunity to benefit from them!
If you’re new to IEW and need help getting started, I’d recommend starting here on their website. And if you’re trying to decide what product would be best for your student, their IEW Pathway is a great resource!
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