The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews
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WriteShop I and II Review by Heidi ShawKim Kautzer and Debra Oldar
5753 Klusman Ave.
Alta Loma, CA 91737
"This stuff is great. Honoring to the Lord, full of great ideas and wonderful assignments, I can't find much to critique."-- The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine
This is a GREAT program. I don't usually start out so strongly, but a program like this in the home school community has been needed for a long time. Let's take a look.
Starting with descriptive writing, and carrying on with narrative and informative, WriteShop has everything you need to guide your students on the path to becoming excellent writers.
Sure, I can hear you say, but how will I KNOW they are becoming excellent writers? Aha, that's where the beauty of this well-laid out program becomes evident.
Lesson-by-lesson, step-by-step, the student is taught how to evaluate and improve his own writing and the parent/teacher is taught right along with him. Every lesson has self-checking evaluation worksheets for both student and teacher. They actually teach us how to assess and edit every lesson. We start with describing an object and move on up through conducting and writing an interview; the lessons are interesting and fun! Each lesson follows a basic format so it is easy to implement.
First, mom and student brainstorm together. Anything from mind maps to charts or drawings. Just to get the ideas flowing. It's fun to do together and there are skill builder sheets and activities to reinforce each assignment.
After brainstorming, the kids write a "sloppy copy." The idea is to get the content and the style flowing. As soon as the sloppy copy is done, the student can check his writing against his checklist for this lesson. This makes it very easy to cover all the necessary required elements for a good paragraph.
Once corrections are done and a first draft is written (or typed), Mom gets her turn. There is a teaching checklist for every lesson that not only helps you assess the mechanics of the assignment, but also the style and content. Suggested marks are given for required elements and it is easy to tell when those requirements are missing.
This stuff is great. Honoring to the Lord, full of great ideas and wonderful assignments, I can't find much to critique. You get a Teacher's manual that covers both levels 1 and 2. You then choose either level one or level two student's manual, depending on your child's grade level or writing level. I started with level one, which is aimed at middle school children. My son is actually in grade 10, but he had no experience actually writing a paragraph or a report on his own. Workbooks and blank lines would no longer be enough and I needed something that would not "speak down" to him. Level one, which is what I use, was perfect for us. It starts basically and moves steadily and quite quickly. By lesson 16, which is the last lesson in level one, we will be learning about third person point of view. Each lesson has plans for the teacher in the teacher manual as well as the aforementioned checklists. So for each lesson, I know the specific focus and how to go about getting that point across to my son.
I have been working with this program for over six months now and I am still finding treasures I hadn't seen before. There are samples of student's work, supplemental activities, even a section full of positive and encouraging comments to help with communication! The teacher's manual also has a section on addressing errors lesson by lesson and how to best correct them. All of this is done in a very godly manner. In fact, one of the main points on each student checklist asks, "Are my topic and choice of words pleasing to the Lord and edifying to others?"
I have five kids, ranging in age from 19 down to three. The cost effectiveness of this program is very appealing to me. The student worksheets and checklists are reproducible for a family. Writeshop lends itself well to a group and adapts well to many situations.
Another positive aspect is the authors. These are two ladies who both love the Lord and wanted to create a systematic, incremental program that would give honor to Him and teach their sons all the skills they wanted them to learn in preparation for advanced high school composition. Debbie Oldar has her Masters Degree in Education and Kim Kautzer majored in Communications. Together they have created a very unique, adaptive, interesting writing program. I give this program five stars, and would give more if I could!
If there is one caveat I should give it would simply be take the time to get to know the program. This is not something you want to "plop" down in front of your student and have him or her complete. Even though the student manual speaks to the student, there is an expectation that the parent/teacher will be involved in the lessons and be prepared to present the main ideas and brainstorming activities. Give yourself time to peruse the teacher's manual - it is very exciting. When I started reading it, I felt for the first time that I could actually teach writing to my children. Take time also, to go to the WriteShop website (www.writeshop.com) and look around. The authors are very accessible and love to talk to home school moms all over the country. A Yahoo group exists and I have visited there with queries now and again. Kim and Debbie frequently answer these questions and give terrific advice! I only wish I had discovered Writeshop earlier, when my older children were struggling with the process of writing.
-- Product Review by: Heidi Shaw, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine
WriteShop II - An Incremental Approach
Well, these ladies have done it again. Unlike many bad movie sequels, part two of WriteShop is, in my opinion, even better than the first. Taking students through the somewhat slippery slope of learning to write, Kim and Debra seem to be able to make clear the cloudy feelings often associated with high school English. Using the same format as volume I that I reviewed earlier, but aimed at an older audience, volume II really delivers. Grades 8 through 10 will benefit the most from this volume, but unlike other second volumes in a series, you don't necessarily need to have completed volume I before beginning. I shared with you in my first review how my writing-reluctant son was coming out of his shell after being introduced to WriteShop. Well, after half of volume I he really felt that the assignments weren't challenging him enough! At 15, he was ready for some more requirements and this was just six months after never having written a thing on his own. This is when we started volume II. The format of brainstorming, sloppy copies, and skills worksheets remains the same, but there are some subtle, internal changes.
More specific content from the student is the biggest change. They are asked to provide a number of specific sentences for each paragraph. For example, the first lesson is describing an object as it was in volume I. The checklist in volume II asks the student to use a simile in his paragraph. They also need to have at least one sentence that begins with a participle, one beginning with an appositive, one using paired adjectives, etc. Not to worry, the skills worksheets take them through any new unfamiliar territory. I love it because it asks my son to step up to the plate and really use his word skills and his thought processes to reword unnecessary or redundant sentences. Throughout volume II, the learning curve is accelerated and I am pleased to see the resulting paragraphs. My son has discovered a love for language he didn't even know he had!
A really neat thing about the WriteShop program is that you don't need to buy a new Teacher's volume. The Teacher's edition contains all the lesson plans, helps, answer keys and more, for both volumes. So, although they do ask you not to photocopy for extra students in the most recent version, they have kept the costs very affordable. The message board that the authors have linked to their website is frequented by many eager users and is always a source of inspiration.
I am very pleased with this program and highly recommend it. From fifth grade right up through high school, there is enough meat in this program to challenge most any student and fulfill any requirements from school boards as well. It is complete, easy to use, and really fun to boot!
One more thing I don't want to forget to mention. This program lends itself very well to small group settings and is being used that way in many areas. The authors have a new, 64-page manual called "Handbook for Teaching in a Group Setting" that's designed for co-op teachers who use WriteShop. You can find information on the handbook at their website, www.writeshop.com.