Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TOS Crew Institute for Excellence in Writing Review

“Even students with little writing experience can immediately enjoy Andrew’s humor and realize the process is not so overwhelming as they learn techniques to create a more enjoyable finished composition.  Their concept of writing as being “too hard” changes; they now have the tools for success!”

Institute for Excellence in Writing products discussed in this review:

Institute for Excellence in Writing - Teaching Structure and Style
Structure and Style Overview DVD
Levels A,B,C

Student Writing Intensive Level B

Student Writing Intensive Level B
• Four DVDs recorded live
• A binder with dividers
• A packet with the teacher’s notes, handouts, and checklists (about 100 pages in all)
Grades 6-8 OR for multi-level households
Price: $99.00

Institute for Excellence in Writing - Writing Wall

Portable Walls
Levels A-C
Useful reference for completing writing assignments.  It's a single-pocket folder with an extra page, creating a tri-fold wall packed with all the Unit Models, several word lists including prepositions, substitutes for "said," and more.

To understand how this program helps, let me first explain a little of our writing history:
My school aged children are currently in 7th, 4th, and 2nd grades.  When my oldest was finishing 3rd grade, I remember giving him a writing assignment that was 8 sentences long.  He burst into tears.  I shortened the assignment - the tears continued.  I shortened it again and the tears still flowed.  Finally, out of desperation, I asked my logically minded, black-n-white thinking son to write me just ONE creative sentence.  Through many tears, he could not!

As time went on, we did mange to find a program that worked for him.  Soon his writing improved with only occasional tears, but his assignments took FOREVER to complete.

Enter child #2 who is the complete opposite.  He is charming, charismatic and a budding comedian.  He has no problem expressing himself verbally or on paper.  He oozes with ability.  He can make a trip to the grocery store seem like a visit to the Brazilian Rain Forest.  Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but, you get the point.

So now, I have two kids using two different levels of the same writing curriculum  --- which means they are writing two different genres and topics each time. 

Enter child #3 who will start 'formal' creative writing this year.  She's very expressive, colorful and has no problems putting her thoughts together.  BUT, that means in the very near future I will have three children using three different levels, writing three different genres, over three different topics!

Did I mention there’s also a rambunctious toddler in this mix?

Our experience with Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW):
So now that you can envision me pulling my hair out, let me tell you about our experience with IEW.

For about four years, I've heard how wonderful this program is, but kept it at arms length due to the expense.  I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to finally review this program for myself with my 7th and 4th graders.

After watching the Structure and Style Overview DVD, I felt confident enough to begin the program with my children.

From this DVD, I learned some important tips about using this program and what sets it apart from other writing programs, such as:

*If you learn to write, then you’ll learn to think.

* Most writing program start with ‘creative writing’ but don’t teach students HOW to think.

*Andrew Pudewa gives an example of learning how to play an instrument.  When you are learning, you don’t just hand an instrument to a child and tell them to ‘have at it’.  You provide them with materials composed by someone else who knows how to play that instrument.  That’s the way it should be with writing.

*In regards to marking and editing:

     -Don’t give a lecture on paper.

     -Correct spelling only.

     -All good writers have an editor. Children shouldn’t be their           own editor.

Some of the examples of the techniques (aka Dress Ups) your child will learn are:

     -Who/which clause
     -“ly” word (adverb)
    - Because clause
    - Strong verb
     -When, while, where, since, as, if although

Using the ‘One a Month’ Schedule, your writing year would look something like this:

September - Note Making and Outlines and Summarizing from notes
October - Summarizing Narrative Stories
November- Summarizing a Reference
December/January - Writing from Pictures
February - Library Research Report
March - Creative Writing with Structure
April/May - Formal Essay
May/June - Formal Critique

In using the actual Writing Intensive Course, Lessons 1-9 (covering approximately 20 weeks) are mostly summarizing an existing paragraph by learning how to outline it using 3 key words per sentence.  Then the paragraph is rewritten from this outline using various required dress ups.  The amount of dress-ups and paragraphs increase with each lesson.  

Both boys did very well and managed without much struggle, producing nicely written paragraphs.  As a bonus, child #1 cut down on his writing time significantly !!!

I was beginning to wonder if this program was going to really be beneficial.  Then, we hit Lesson 10!  This time they would be writing a familiar story from memory or a vignette from a recent reader.  Now I was going to see if this program was really working.

There were some sighs and some groans and a wee bit of eye rolling too.  In the end,   Child #1 produced a wonderful story on Iwo Jima that did not need any editing on my part!  W-O-W!  I was speechless!

Child  #2 produced a chip-chop story on life in Amsterdam pre-WWI.  He didn't quite grasp the whole concept, so, we sat down to brain storm his outline together.  I was actually glad to see him being challenged in order to build some writer's muscle.   With his new outline in hand, he produced three wonderful paragraphs in no time.    I would imagine that this is how you would do Level B with an average 4th grade writer.

In Lesson 11 the student learns how to summarize reference materials and gets excellent instruction in taking notes by really focusing in on key words.  This is where we are currently in our IEW journey.

I love how the Teacher's Book breaks everything down for you in bite-sized daily bits.  You can choose to go as fast or as slow as your student(s) need.  Each lesson can take 1-2 weeks to complete.  So, the program can last you 15-30 weeks depending how quickly you work through the materials.

I have to admit, that it was very nice to pop in the DVD and have Andrew Pudewa give my 2 oldest their own private writing seminar explaining writing techniques and giving them their assignments.  He also takes the time on the DVD to read some of his students' finished work, which was very helpful to my boys.

My boys enjoyed IEW even when it got "tough".  Andrew Pudewa has a natural teaching style that puts the student at ease.  The boys liked the DVDs and the composition checklists that accompany each writing assignment because it told them EXACTLY what was expected of them.

I liked the check lists as well because it took the 'emotional' aspect of grading writing assignments away enabling me to concentrate on the 'nuts and bolts' of style and technique.  Using this method kept everyone cool, calm and collected!

Another aspect of this program I like is that it can easily be used for writing any genre for any number of children.  No longer will I be juggling two or more different writing assignments over multiple topics.  From now on, there can be just one assignment for all, but geared towards each child’s ability. 

After being skeptical, I have to say, “I am sold!”

I received these items for free in exchange for an honest review.

Here’s what other crew members are saying


  1. This sounds like a great tool. Thank you for your insight and excellent review.

  2. I am so jealous that you got this for free! :o)
    I love Mr. Pudewa's style!

  3. We are going to use this (this year)....the older two children are. I am currently excited about their PALS program for my 4yo and am writing up a review for it right now! Congrats on getting this for free!!!

  4. Thank you for this review. I have used PAL for the past year and am not finding it a good fit, but am wondering if we should stick with it because I've heard good things about Structure & Style.