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The Writing Course and The Essay Course Review by Jennifer Loucks

By Fred Lybrand
Advanced Writing Resources

The Writing Course is a uniquely simple writing program. Students ages 12 to 18 listen to short talks and take notes in a workbook; then they just write. Sounds too good to be true? Read on and see if it will work for your students.
Dr. Fred Lybrand and his wife Jody have homeschooled their children using the Robinson Curriculum. The Robinson Curriculum's main approach is to "teach your children to teach themselves." After learning phonics and basic arithmetic facts, students work through a math textbook, write an essay a day on any topic, and read through an increasingly difficult reading list of fiction and nonfiction. Dr. Lybrand desired to teach writing to students using a similar self-teaching approach--by giving principles of writing that are then applied continuously in the student's daily writing.
For $119, you can download the entire course (21 mp3 files, a 46-page workbook and answer key, and a few other files) from the website immediately after paying. (For $145 you can have it mailed to you on disks.) Then print the workbook. Your student will listen to a talk (talks are typically 20 minutes or less) while filling in blanks in the workbook and then do a short writing exercise afterwards.
Dr. Lybrand has "12 Writing Secrets" or writing principles that he teaches throughout the 21 lectures. His course focuses on both mechanics and "philosophy." First, mechanics alone are not enough to make a successful writer, and thus should not be the focus, but they can be learned naturally (secret #3: "Language is an instinct"). As examples of philosophy points, he encourages writers to write, get help, and re-write; to simply start writing and let the ideas flow from the words; and more. These are universal principles that anyone can learn and continue to learn from, so Dr. Lybrand strongly suggests having your students go through the course two or more times per year. He says students will find the principles have "grown" with them.
The writing exercises are short and interesting, such as "Write at least six related sentences that are only OK, not great. Take about fifteen minutes." After the audio course and workbook are completed, students write for 30-60 minutes per day on any topic.
Perhaps another way to describe The Writing Course (TWC) would be to compare it to the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), a writing program very popular among homeschoolers. While IEW gives very concrete formulas for different types of writing and requires specific stylistic elements, TWC gives principles to help the student learn how to approach writing and find his own "writing voice." It focuses on the "big picture." Both approaches are valid, and their usefulness to a teacher or student depends on his/her own teaching (or learning) style and strengths and weaknesses. In fact, the approaches could be a great balance to each other.
The Essay Course is a supplemental course that is included in the price of The Writing Course. It has 17 talks but no workbook, and is best used by a student who has already used The Writing Course. It focuses on preparing for more formal college writing.
The price of The Writing Course is high, but consider the following points: it is completely reusable; it will be used by student for several years; it includes The Essay Course; and most of all, it is so unlike any other writing course that, if it fits your family, it will be well worth the price.

The Robinson Curriculum doesn't fit every parent's teaching style, and The Writing Course doesn't either. We have used the Robinson Curriculum for the past six years, and are very pleased with both the philosophy and the results. We've tried writing programs that rely on formulas and found them tedious after a while. The Writing Course is a perfect companion to the Robinson Curriculum, and I am excited to have my children use it as he suggests. If you like the Robinson Curriculum or are looking for a big-picture, self-teaching way to help your kids with writing, The Writing Course may be a perfect fit for you.

Product review by Jennifer Loucks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008