The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews

With so many products available we often need a little help in making our curriculum choices. The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine family understands because we are in the same boat! Do you need more information on a product before you buy? With over 5,500 products listed in 52 easy-to-use categories, much of the information you need to know is only a click away! Let our reviewer-families help yours.
Do you want to get the word out about your product or service to the homeschool community? Email Tess Hamre and share a little about what you´d like showcased, and we can help with that!

WRITE! Foundations and Models for Proficiency (Levels C and F) Review by Camilla Anderson

Curriculum Associates, Inc.
North Billerica, MA 01862

This review is based on workbooks "C" and "F" of this series, which includes eight books, A through H. After some careful reading on the website, I realized that these books are also referred to as books 1 through 8. (Yes, it was confusing, but I figured it out for you!) The books are intended for grades 1 through 8. Therefore, the C workbook (Book 3) is for grade 3, and the F workbook (Book 6) is for grade 6.

The WRITE! student workbooks are soft cover, full-color workbooks consisting of 37 very detailed lessons intended to improve writing skills. To do this, the lessons review grammar usage and mechanics and include three corresponding practice exercises per lesson. In addition, in each lesson, the students study highlighted "models" of writing to notice particular grammar usage and other writing techniques, correct errors in writing models, write their own short samples using the skills covered, and score given writing samples and their own writing based on a rubric. Yes, these books teach the children about rubric scoring and how to evaluate their own writing. The workbooks can be mainly self-directed, but a Teacher's Guide is available with an answer key, writing prompt ideas, and other helpful tips to encourage and direct the student.

I will tell you right up front that I like a lot of the educational components of these books, and overall they are helpful. However, I have a list of problems that I feel make these books difficult to use. First, I do not like the colorful, graphic mess. I know that some homeschool mothers choose their workbooks based on how colorful they are. I am not one of them. The colors, graphics, and fonts in this book are clashing, obnoxious, and overdone--a different background on each page, different fonts, and a mixture of photos and clipart graphics. I like my workbooks cleaner, simpler, and mostly black and white with a little color or graphic added. If I had flipped through this book while browsing, I would not have given it a second glance because it looks like such a mess to me.

I also found the instructions and overall set-up of this curriculum to be confusing at times. For example, each lesson has a "Practice" section where the student is to complete three short grammar exercises. Sometimes room is given in the workbook to complete the exercise, and sometimes it is not. It is confusing. Is it a workbook or a textbook? After reading some equally confusing information on the website about this curriculum, I discovered that you can purchase something called "Student Response Books" to go with this workbook, which are a place students can write their answers. Not just one response book, but two different response books for each workbook--one for writing the answers to exercises and one for the writing assignments. Argh! Confusing! Why weren't the response books sent for review? I then found where it says in the teacher guide that students may record their answers "in the response book." (I looked for that instruction after I knew there was a response book.) However, the teacher guide also says students can record answer in the workbook directly--but, as I mentioned, sometimes there is room given in the workbook, and sometimes there is not. This is an unnecessary inconsistency. A simple change in the set-up or even the directions could simplify this curriculum 100%. Enough about that.

In addition, the teaching portion and/or instructions for each exercise are not always written clearly. We have come across several confusing areas in the lessons where I needed to study it myself for a minute before being able to explain it to my student. It is a simple case of bad technical writing and editing. This is especially annoying in a writing curriculum! For example, in book C, the lesson on "main verbs" and "helping verbs" is confusing because it first describes "am, is, are, was, and were" as helping verbs. Although it attempts to explain later that those verbs can be used alone, they are introduced as helping verbs, and the subsequent practice exercises are confusing. In addition, some of the examples and teaching sentences are poorly written, muddled, and confusing. This theme of poor organization and writing seems to be through the entire curriculum, as well as on the sales page of the website, where the books are referred to as A through H, books 1 through 8, as well as grades 1 through 8. Another example of poor organization is that pages that would be more helpful in the student book, such as student writing checklists to help evaluate their own writing (which is a main purpose of this curriculum), are located in the teacher's guide, whereas the rubric guides for evaluating the student work (written more like teacher helps) are included in the student book. Are you confused? I was! If I were in a bookstore evaluating this curriculum for purchase, I would never even consider it.

However, because I received these materials for review, we gave them a test drive. All complaints aside, are these books helpful and useful? My answer is, yes. As a supplemental writing course to improve writing skills, these books could be helpful for certain students. I have a daughter who is a writer by nature. These books work well for her. They are helping her to polish her work. They are helping her notice the quality and style of writing that she is reading, which is a very helpful skill. Students can learn to be good writers if they notice the writing behind what they read! These books teach the student to evaluate their writing based on its consistency, flow, readability, word choice, and structure. I will keep using parts of this curriculum--at least for now. There are some very solid teaching methods and ideas at the core of this curriculum.

I will not use these books for my son, who hates writing and struggles with it. Giving him this confusing workbook with all its crazy, colorful pages would just make things worse. For him, I will stick to curricula that keep things more clear, simple, and organized.

The cost of the WRITE! materials for one student is about $38: $14.95 for the workbook, $8.95 for the teacher guide, and $6.95 each for the student response books. For the money, there are better writing programs out there, but this one is not the worst. I do like many of its core methods and concepts, and it is a very "full" curriculum, as in lots of educational matter. However, I sometimes feel I have to "extract" the core parts and reorganize the curriculum in order to use it well. It may work very well for you, and it is definitely complete as a supplemental course. Sample pages are offered on their website. First, click the "Homeschoolers" button (tiny yellow dot, upper right-hand corner). Then click on "WRITE!" You will get an overview of all the components and be able to download or preview sample pages to (look for the tiny little sentence with clickable links located just above the order table).

Product review by Camilla Anderson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2009