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Understanding Writing Review by Heather JackowitzBradrick Family Enterprises
25 Geissler Road
Montesano, Washington 98563
Understanding Writing by Susan Bradrick, a veteran homeschool mother of nine, is a Bible-based, mastery-oriented writing curriculum for grades one through 12. All necessary written language skills, except handwriting and spelling, are taught through discussion, example, and drill. Understanding Writing takes a relaxed approach to grammar, teaching only what is necessary to the writing task at hand in the early years. Some additional reference materials are necessary to implement the program: two or more English handbooks (Rod & Staff's or A Beka's handbooks are recommended.), one or more good dictionaries, and a thesaurus. Students will also need writing paper, stationery, pencils and pens, and a notebook or binder.
At the beginning of each level, there are lists of goals and mastery skills. Goals are concepts you will introduce to your child over the course of the year, but mastery skills are concepts that should be mastered before moving on to the next level. Mastery means that your child can perform a certain skill with comfort and ease. These lists make it easy to evaluate placement of a child who is new to the program. It is important to start in the right place and not simply at grade level because upper level skills build on lower level skills. Usually an older child can move more quickly through the lower levels, however, it is important to lay the proper foundation. The author says that first and second graders with no previous grammar instruction should begin at Level 1; all other students should begin at Level 2. Levels 2 and 3 are the most important levels, and without mastery of these skills, students will not be able to succeed at higher levels.
Students learn how to plan and revise their compositions using "PET sheets." There are 50 PET sheets included, and they are reproducible. These forms are used both for student planning and teacher evaluation. The format of these sheets helps us understand the teaching goals of Understanding Writing in three areas: content, style, and mechanics. Content involves choosing and limiting a topic, and selecting a purpose and audience for each composition. The focus throughout the program is on godly communication for the benefit of edifying and serving others. Scripture references are abundant and well chosen to help parents give their children a solid understanding of the purpose of writing in a Christian's life. The second element is style, which includes composition form (descriptive, narrative, informative, or persuasive), tone, and word choice. Choosing concrete, concise, and gracious words is constantly emphasized. Finally, mechanics include the nuts and bolts of writing: handwriting, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The author encourages parents not to focus exclusively on the mechanics, but to see the content and style as equally important elements. I appreciate this wisdom, as I know I am prone to focusing exclusively on mechanics, which is a much easier area to evaluate. Sometimes a child may struggle with spelling, but have a wonderful way with words, and that child needs to be praised and encouraged. This is not to say that good spelling is nonessential! The author simply encourages us to keep mechanics in their place.
Levels 1-5 each have between 16 and 24 weekly units. Daily lessons range from about 20 minutes in level one to 45 minutes in level five. Students progress from writing good sentences to descriptive and narrative paragraphs to book summaries. Serving others through letter writing is a major component at every level; polished paragraphs are usually included in a weekly letter. Grammar skills are taught throughout the lower levels through discussion, example, dictation, and practice. Students are encouraged to apply what they are learning to their writing. Extra weeks in each school year should be spent practicing new skills toward mastery.
Level 6 has only 10 weekly units. Following Level 6, and through Levels 7 and 8, students need to work through a complete grammar course. Saving money on yearly grammar texts by using one good, solid grammar program in middle school and having excellent handbooks always available is an idea I first heard from Ruth Beechick in You Can Teach Your Child Successfully. The author recommends Easy Grammar and Easy Writing by Wanda Phillips or, for a more in-depth grammar study, A Beka Grammar and Composition II and IV. Although no new composition skills are taught during these levels, students are expected to apply their grammar study to frequent writing assignments using skills learned during Levels 1-6.
Levels 9-12 are laid out differently than the previous years' lessons. Instead of daily teaching lessons, there are 18 units to be completed over the course of four years. One unit on persuasive writing has 17 daily lesson plans, including a short course in logic. The author recommends working through this unit with your child. The rest of the units are designed for self-study, however you should always be available to talk through any difficulties with your child. You will need to purchase one additional resource for high school - Elements of Style by Strunk and White. (This small book is also highly recommended by Susan Wise Bauer of The Well-Trained Mind.) Students are instructed to begin each year by reading this book and to refer to it often. Now the English handbooks become the high school student's tools instead of being a parent resource. A curriculum is laid out, but the actual "how-to's" are in the handbooks. In the early levels, your child learns descriptive, narrative, and informative writing; now he learns persuasive writing. He will also write at least one research paper, an evaluative book report, a theme or report, and several paraphrases. Optional units include essays, short stories, poetry, a personal journal, and children's literature.
This is one thorough program! I greatly appreciate Susan Bradrick's emphasis on godly communication. She constantly brings us back to the Scripture, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how to respond to each person" (Colossians 4:6). I also love the emphasis on developing research skills. From the earliest levels, dictionaries, handbooks, and thesauri are seen as the writer's friends and used in meaningful activities. Another strength of the program is the focus on the revision process. Proofreading and evaluating one's own writing is an important skill for children to develop, and Susan teaches the parent how to lead a child in evaluating his own work.
As I reviewed this product, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Harvey Wiener's philosophy in Any Child Can Write. So I was not surprised to see his book recommended as an optional resource. Unfortunately, there is not a Bradrick Family Enterprises website yet, but one is in the works. To get more information, I suggest you call the family directly or ask around and find someone who is using it. Another good review of the product can be found at www.characterbuildingforfamilies.com/Bradrick.html.
If you are intimidated by the prospect of teaching your child to write well, be encouraged! Susan Bradrick's Understanding Writing is like having an experienced mentor walk you through the difficult task of teaching your child to write.