Wanted: writing curriculum and an asprin

Writing Tools

J. (age 12) has been trying out the Ron Paul Curriculum this semester. And while we are going to take a break from it, I have good things to say about it, too. It’s totally self taught, so it’s good for those with a lot of self discipline who are highly motivated. J. has had weekly essays that we read and correct, but yesterday was the first time I flipped through the rest of his completed work. It’s a pretty impressive pile of work, and his binder is full to bursting.

However. The RPC curriculum cautions parents that if you find yourself needing to remind, nudge, and outright nag your student to complete his schoolwork, the course is probably not a good fit. And we have had to remind and nudge. In some ways J. has really liked setting his own pace, but there are things that definitely trigger some frustration and anxiety.

I think the heavy essay writing requirements are a little too challenging at this point. He seems to really struggle with expository writing. He wants to write what the instructor said, or exactly what he read, rather than formulating his own words. This has affected history and English both, and has helped me realize we need to implement more specific and detailed writing instruction.

Decisions, decisions

Finding said specific and detailed writing instruction is proving more difficult than I anticipated. And so I’m doing what we do these days. I’m asking the internet for advice. So far, I’ve checked out:

Brave Writer – I’m annoyed that I can’t download actual sample PDFs of lessons. She has one in website format, but I’d like to see what the real pages look like. I also got a little lost on her website, though admittedly it’s late and I’m tired. She writes a lot (like me) and it took me quite a while to figure out the different packages. I think, if I went this route, we’d do the Writer’s Jungle Silver Binder package for $97, plus, I assume, shipping? Kind of a lot of pennies.

Writing With Skill – This one feels safe, because it’s by Peace Hill Press. We used Writing with Ease so I imagine it will feel familiar, though none of my kids loved WWW, so there’s that to consider. $20 and some change on Amazon. I probably also need the teacher’s manual which is like $30 or something.

Excellence in Writing – I found this via IrishMum, and I love just about everything she does with her boys, so I was pretty much decided until I read this review. Holy overwhelming, batman (<-- stupid viglink is making that a link). I know she says repeatedly that it isn't as overwhelming as it seems, but I'm overwhelmed. Plus it's $109.00 though it's non consumable, so you can reuse it easily. Write Shop – That same reviewer switched to Write Shop (probably because she was overwhelmed, ha ha), and I’m still eyeballing this one. Not everything is contained in one book, so it’s a little confusing, and I’ve read mixed reviews from others. $45.95, though I think I need more components?

Write Source – This is a public school textbook, and the teacher’s manual (which I’ve read is necessary) is like a million dollars. I read a pretty convincing review, and felt good about this choice after looking at some samples, especially after finding used copies on Amazon for much less, but then some bad reviews threw me off again. Around $8.00 for the student textbook used on Amazon, $60 for the teacher’s manual also used on Amazon. Otherwise, like $40 and $130 respectively, new.

Essentials in Writing – I like the price on this one. $40 for the main bit, and $25 for the additional bits. One reviewer said some disparaging things about the video instructor though, and now I think I’ve ruled this out.

Winning with Writing – This is made by the Growing with Grammar folks, and we really like GWG, so I thought this would be an easy choice. It’s also nice and affordable and $25.99 plus shipping. Those darn reviews, though. People say the writing course is too repetitive and boring if you’re already doing their grammar books, so this one has been eliminated.

Cover Story Writing – This one looks interesting, though they are sold out at the moment. Also, spendy at $149.00. It’s by the same guy who does the high school One Year Adventure Novel writing course. Both look really fun, though I wonder if you get any paper writing and letter writing type instruction.

For grammar, J. has requested to return to Growing with Grammar, but I’m also eyeballing Jr. Analytical Grammar, and we also have a complete MCT Grammar package that E. has just never implemented much.

I’m going to go ice my headache. Any others I’ve missed and should be considering? Any experience with the above?


  1. says

    I just wrote a loooooooong comment on The Write Foundation, which I’ve taught now for 3 years. My comment went to some strange “CAPTCHA” page, and then when I entered the number/letter combination and clicked, the page went blank.

    So, there ya go.
    Write me if you want more information on why I like The Write Foundation. :)

    • says

      Your comment here went to some strange CAPTCHA page? Crap, what the heck could that be?

      Okay, looking it up – thank you, and you know I will probably harass you for more info!

  2. says

    We didn’t do writing with ease, but my daughter is on year two of writing with skill, and I really like it.

    • says

      Thank you! Can you tell me what a typical day looks like? Is it enjoyable or could you see a preteen sighing laboriously and saying, “boring” in that really annoying way?

      Ha ha, kidding. I know you don’t have a crystal ball.

      • Jennifer says

        We started it this year in 5th with the expectation that it would take 2yrs, but O has done well and is even able to do some on her own. We haven’t hit the 21st week which for some is when it gets a lot tougher. It usually takes 35min or so at this point and I don’t have to help a ton.

  3. Nichole says

    I am using Cover Story this year after using IEW for the past 2 years. My son is excelling using this curriculum and I am very, very happy with it! Most importantly, he is looking at writing as fun and not a chore.

  4. Charli says

    You’re the one who turned me on to mct and we use him for all language arts! Second year now, and my daughter loves it! Why not use mct?

    • says

      I love it, but for some reason it totally overwhelms my husband who is in charge of homeschooling. I wonder if I should get it out and kind of put it all in an easy chart for him & J. so that it’ll get used. They read the read alouds together, but then E. just stopped. I’m going to dig it out today and give it a look over. I technically should get him the next step up…. hmm.

    • says

      Okay I pulled it out. I’ve got Level 1 which J. is definitely beyond. Gosh though, I forgot how great this all is. The literature program too. Sigh. Okay, I think I’ll list this on the homeschool classifieds site (since E. isn’t going to use it with the others) and look over Level 3 or 4. I forgot they had a writing program too. Gotta go comb it over. I’m just afraid that E. will get overwhelmed with the several different books. I think he’d be happier managing something a little more contained, even though this is brilliantly done.

      Gotta give E. props but oh how we’d like to switch roles if we could!

  5. Mom2Eight says

    I’m homeschooling eight kids (well, five at the moment–we’ve entered community college, and some high school options), and we have tried a lot of things. When something says, “Only 15 minutes a day…” I have to remember that that is per child. Hmmm. 15 minutes times 6 children in that curriculum times how many subjects? Equals lots of Mom’s time. Rant over. Sorry.

    I think you just have to remember that each child is different. What works for one won’t work well for another.

    Writing With Skill worked well for my ten-year-old daughter who was self motivated. The teacher’s manual is a must, but content is not repeated. I had to sit with two books open and read both books to figure out what was wanted. It was a good program, but we eventually gave up because, essentially, it required as much time for me to grade it as it did for her to do the assignment. I learned, and she learned, but it was a very painful process.

    Writing With Skill was a disaster for my “I am allergic to my pencil” thirteen-year-old son.

    We tried Winning With Writing for a semester, and I will not use it again. It was very nice that my kids could work on their own, but it really didn’t teach good writing skills. They were actually picking up bad habits and wrong skills.

    Essential in Writing was a life saver for my twelve-year-old boy who exhibits brilliance, but has very strong tendencies toward dyslexia, which means his spelling is atrocious, and therefore he hates writing. He learned how to organize his papers and writing and wrote some excellent essays in spite of the challenges he faces. The down side of the program is that the first three quarters of it is just a grammar program to lay a foundation for writing. The actual expository writing skills are not taught until the last quarter. You could easily skip grammar lessons that your kids already know if you so desire.

    I am still using Essentials in Writing with three of my kids this year, since they love the independence in their homework, it is easy for me to grade, and at least I know the major gaps will be filled in somehow. They get exposure to the “Essentials.” That said, I really double up my kids’ language arts programs. I use other grammar programs. They all do Daily Grams every day. Some use Easy Grammar, or Rod and Staff, or First Language Lessons, or Writing With Ease in addition to Essentials in Writing. (Like I said, what works for one doesn’t work for another). The instructor does well, but he does have a strong southern accent, and the southern/regional influence comes through in his teaching, but it is no different than the variety my kids might experience if they attended school. They love that someone besides Mom is their teacher part of the time.

    We have tried Writing Strands. I like some aspects of it, but we no longer use it. If I had the time, I would probably pull some lessons from it, as they are nicely done, if not very methodical.

    My favorite program is Romalda Spalding’s Writing Road to Reading, but it is very teacher intensive and is best used with some training for homeschool parents, available online for about $40 from Spalding Education, International. I got 12 sessions, once a week for about an hour and a half or so, and I haven’t seen the part two for upper elementary students available yet. I just don’t have the time to spend about 2 hours a day per child on Writing. I still use the lesson outline from the teacher’s manuals to be sure my kids are learning the skills, and if I need to teach something they just don’t get, I will. Mostly, we use it for spelling along with some Orton/Gillingham training I took.

    Good luck choosing a program, and thanks for tolerating my long comments. :)

    • says

      This is really helpful, thank you!! Seriously, especially about Writing with Skill. That’s kinda what my gut was telling me and I think we’d have a similar experience.

      Since E. is doing the homeschooling while I work, this is doubly harder. He’s great, but definitely overwhelmed by managing just four kids, so I’m trying to find something less teacher intensive… which maybe just isn’t possible with something like writing. We need a Khan Academy for writing!

      Anyway, thanks, seriously.

      • Mom2Eight says

        I’m glad I could help. A Khan Academy for writing sounds great! I’ve often wished Spalding videos were available, but part of its effectiveness is the interaction between student and teacher. I think that is why so many of us struggle with teaching writing: Teacher involvement is a must.

  6. says

    Pick mine, pick mine!!!! IEW is VERY easy to implement with a motivated child, and a less than motivated one too (I have both). We love the videos. Andrew is inspiring, humorous and clear. My boys also love listening to the kids in his classroom and their suggestions for words etc.

    We had previously use WWW. My boys weren’t mad about it, but they did go and read all the books she mentioned on their own, so that was a win. I didn’t love it because there was too much teacher time for me. We also did a year with WWS, a great program too, but very teacher intensive.

    Good luck with your choice :)

    • says

      Okay, so I was totally going to and then that review scared me to death. It sounds so complicated. Keep in mind this is my husband homeschooling… and he’s not great at multitasking or following a complicated guide. Do you think a very linearly thinking dad could manage to do this w/ a 12 year old? J. is motivated until he gets frustrated, then he goes into full avoidance mode. Gack. I’m so torn!

      • says

        Ok, so I read the review to see what’s up. She is using the TWSS DVD also. You do not need this. I did buy it, and watched some of it, back when I started homeschooling and I was going to be the best homeschool mum ever. But it’s TOTALLY unnecessary. Also that mum is taking things WAY further than you need to. We don’t do any white board together time, and certainly no brainstorming. My boys do enough other storming without storming my brain!! In our house it started off a little more teacher intensive then it is now. We watched DVD together, made sure kids knew what was expected, helped them write the first couple of exercises. It tool them a couple of weeks to make sure they had the correct pages, and remember where they left off. Then they were on their own. I do require them to do it very like Andrew prescribes, so it’s very easy to correct. But we do a little cheating. I let mine do it on their laptops, so it’s much easier to get a rewrite than if they had to rewrite by hand. I think IEW is the bees knees!

        Sorry, I know nothing about GWG. And I won’t be much use on grammar in general. I am hopeless at grammar, so picked JAG/AG to teach my boys for me. I think it has done a fine job, but I wouldn’t know if it hadn’t!! My older two did JAG completely independently. I just corrected. I think I might have to be a little more involved with my other two boys. We did do First Language Lessons for a while, but it was so teacher intensive that were didn’t finish all the levels. We also have the MCT books, and the kids have read them, but I needed more structure for it to be a lesson, too many books for this air-head. It is a great program, and if I was a more committed teacher it’s the one I would pick.

        • says

          Oh that is such a relief. Okay, so if I go that route, I JUST need this: http://iew.com/shop/products/student-writing-intensive-level-b and not all the teacher training courses, right? How you handled it sounds like how we might, also. We’d start out teacher intensive and then settle into our own groove.

          That’s a really good way to describe MCT. It’s not a lot of structure, and more just ‘let’s explore this together and hope it’s sinking in.’ I think it can be done well, but it’s definitely not going to be up my husband’s alley, and IEW just might.

          • says

            Yeah, just that. If you purchase directly from them they have a 100% money back guarantee, so it it doesn’t suit you can return it.

    • says

      Also, I keep meaning to email you and pick your brain about the Jr. Analytical Grammar (and beyond). We’ve used Growing w/ Grammar forever, which is super nice as they can largely do it on their own, but maybe the Analytical courses are more challenging? Have you ever tried GWG so you can compare?

  7. Deann says

    Wait… I come here for ideas! :)
    We’re doing Growing with Grammar and Winning with Writing for my 3rd and 5th grade kiddos. I don’t find them to be repetitive, I think they’re different but compliment each other well. My 5th grade daughter has had a difficult time with writing, she can write in her personal journal easily. Her stories there are long and thorough, but when it comes to a curriculum she wants to copy everything. We’re hoping that by doing writing one on one with her we can help her recognize where to add more creativity in her school writing, and how to follow the “rules” to make it easier to understand her stories. If that doesn’t work I’ve been looking at Writing With Ease (I guess Writing With Skill for her) or Writing Strands. I just got a used WWE 1 book and was bored.. but Writing Strands seems to be a better fit. Though I’ve read reviews that WWE/WWS is better for reluctant writers and Writing Strands is better for self starters. Learning Language Arts Through Literature is also something that intrigues me, but it seems too much to add to the other curriculum we’re using (Family School with the Literature portion).

    • says

      Ha! I’m afraid I might get more “HELP ME INTERNET” as J. grows. This whole middle school / jr. high stuff is kind of terrifying.

      That is good input – part of me wishes I’d just done that since it’s what we know, and it won’t throw E. for a loop.

      I liked how thorough WWE was, but my kids were really bored and cheered out loud when we decided to axe it. I need to go look at Writing Strands.

      I looked at LLAT last year and quite liked it, though I think E. would mold over. I need my Dec. paycheck so I can just jump into one of these and see how it goes.

  8. NetteLou says

    Brave Writer is awesome but the Writer’s Jungle is a guide. There are not really any lessons in it. You read the ideas/philosophy and then implement it yourself.

    Classical Academic Press has a new writing program and I have read lots of positive reviews about it. You might need something more advanced though. They only have the first level published so far.

    • says

      Oh thank you, thank you! I got so lost in the Brave Writer site, and that isn’t what I’m looking for at all. Thanks so much.

      I will go look up CAP!

  9. MIchelle says

    I teach middle school language arts to gifted kids in a private, religious school, and I really like all the Write Source materials. You may not need the teacher’s guide, either.
    I also use a “writer’s notebook” model for writing practice – there are a million, billion free ideas on Pinterest, but the best ones come from the Nevada Writing Project – http://writingfix.com/
    Also follow Corbett Harrison on Pinterest for good visuals of student work. He does a nice job of integrating independent reading with vocabulary and writing study.

    • says

      Thank you! This is so helpful. I’ll check out Writing Fix as well. Going to go look him up on Pinterest, thanks a bunch.

  10. Erica says

    I love, love, LOVE Brave Writer. Love The Writer’s Jungle. Love Partnership Writing. Love her daily emails. Love her blog and what she shares on facebook. To me, this approach gets to the heart of writing in a way that is natural and authentic. I’d say the down side is that it might take awhile to feel like you really understand how to put all the pieces together. I’ve been marinating in her materials for awhile and feel like I’m seeing the natural places to use the ideas more and more. Using The Arrow or Boomerang might give you some structure without struggle. The online classes can be helpful and fun, too.

    We have used IEW within the context of being in Classical Conversations Essentials class. I’d say cons on DIYing this is the time investment to understand what to do and how to do it. SO many hours of videos for the parents to watch. (and SO boring! Lawsy….) Pros is that you get a very, very formulaic, recipe approach to “improving” writing. The student will come to see how to spiff up their writing with clauses and interesting openers and the power of a well-placed strong verb or adjective. So, for seeing *how* to make it more interesting for the reader, I like it. That being said, after spending a lot of time and money and blood, sweat, and tears to do IEW in Essentials, my kids still hated to write and didn’t write anything for fun or from their own ideas. After 2 years, we are taking a break from IEW and are on to the Brave Writer style which is much more in line with my personality and the tendencies of my children.

    • says

      I am seriously paralyzed with indecision at this point. I’m afraid Brave Writer is too… oh what’s the word, not structured enough for my husband to follow.

      I get such mixed feedback on IEW. It sounds like, if you skip all the parent training stuff, and just get the package for the kids, it goes better, but I’m still not sure it’s the best fir tof my husband. It would be a bit different if I were the one doing it. Hmmmmmm.

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