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Write to Learn Review by Jennifer Harrison

Pearson Education, Inc.

Creative writing is a skill that causes many homeschooling mamas' hearts to skip a beat, mine included. It seems to come so naturally to some students and yet so unnaturally to others. How can you be certain that students are learning what they need to know? Why do they sometimes take it so personal when mom checks their work? Why is it difficult to objectively evaluate our own child's writing?

WriteToLearn@Home is a an online writing program that helps students in grades 3-12 improve their writing skills through a series of writing summaries and essay prompts. WriteToLearn@Home works with students on six traits of writing: ideas, organization, conventions, sentence fluency, word choice, and voice. These topics are learned independently online as students receive objective feedback on their work.

Account set-up is a breeze. I registered each of my children for a one-year account and then chose a grade level for each student. Multiple age levels can be chosen for each child at the same time, and they are always changeable if a subject proves too difficult or too easy. One thing I loved about this program is that my children never saw what grade level I assigned to them. They signed in under their own names and never saw my account. All they saw were their assignments.

After registration, I assigned each student a list of summary lessons to read on various topics, and then they were to write a summary of what they had read. There were a myriad of different topics available to choose from. My fifth grader was especially thrilled to read several articles on special effects and makeup in movies. My eighth grader was happy to see essays on Ancient Egypt, which coincided with our history lessons at the time. Parents can assign as many or as few summaries as they like. Also available to assign were essay topics. Students are given essay topic prompts chosen by mom and guided through feedback to write a proper essay.

After assigning their work, my job was done. I was able to keep tabs on their progress through my page, but my assistance was not needed anymore. I did volunteer to type for my younger students as they dictated to me, simply to save them time and frustration. But the grading and explaining was left to the program.

When students log on, they see a list to choose from that includes a few essay prompts and a list of articles to read and summarize. After reading an article, students type in their summary, save it, and then click on a box to receive feedback. The program lets them know what they have summarized appropriately and what areas still need work. They have six tries to write a summary that is acceptable. Teachers are able to give them more tries if the six are not enough, but the limited number helps them focus rather than blindly write and then check themselves continuously.

The summary writing portions also help students build reading comprehension. Each article consists of a passage of average chapter length. By summarizing what they have read, students gain a deeper understanding of the material.

The essay writing portions help students improve their writing skills and discover their own voice as they learn to describe things, defend positions, and compare and contrast topics. Even with these more complicated topics, mom is not needed for grading. The feedback portion identifies sentences copied from the original article, mistakes in spelling, and repeated and unimportant content. It even helps identify grammar and redundancy mistakes.

The entire program removed so much pressure from me and my children. I was able to choose relevant material and keep an eye on their progress while they were able to work at their own pace and receive objective feedback on writing assignments that they found relevant and interesting. WriteToLearn@home has been a refreshing change in our homeschool lesson plans.

Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2010