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Teaching Writing with Structure and Style, Level B Complete Course Review by Charlotte Gochnauer

Andrew Pudewa
Institute for Excellence in Writing
8799 N. 387 Road
Locust Grove, OK 74352

Writing is such an important part of life. And just because I enjoy writing, that doesn’t mean that my young charges embrace it as well. Enter the Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive series.

This program teaches writing in a unique way. Instead of giving a writing assignment and having your child begin with a blank sheet of paper, they are instead taught to outline from an existing paragraph and then, they re-write a paragraph from their outline. This focuses the student, and gives them tools for improving their writing skills. They are then taught how to improve their paragraphs with “dress ups”. These range from adding stronger verbs and adjectives, to learning how to combine sentences. The course has nine units and systematically builds on itself. Some of the units are Creative Writing, Reports, Essays, and Critiques.

The course is DVD based. Each lesson has a 30-50 minute lecture, taught by the creator Mr. Andrew Pudewa. These are live recordings taped at a writing intensive seminar for students, but are easily divided into manageable lessons. Mr. Pudewa has an engaging and comical style that encourages even those boys who can’t stand holding pencils. (I know; I have one.) Each lesson has assignments and a checklist which is concise and easy to understand.

I received Level B which is meant for 6th to 8th grade students. This includes the 4 DVD set and a Structure and Style Overview DVD for parents. The overview is extremely helpful in explaining the methods and scope of the program. With the Student Level you also get a 3 ring binder for your student, complete with diving tabs for easy organization. You will also receive a packet which contains the course schedule, handouts, teacher notes, and reference pages. The entire set is purchased for $109; you can also purchase extra student packets for $19 if you are teaching multiple children.

I also received the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD seminar with seminar workbook. This sells for $169 and comes with 10 instructional DVD’s and a teacher notebook. Six of the DVD’s are of Mr. Pudewa conducting a teacher training seminar; these go systematically through the 9 units and give you, the teacher, helpful and concrete tools to teach writing. There are 3 DVD’s that are sample student lessons at the three levels (A, B, and C). And you will also receive the DVD Tips & Tricks for Teaching through the Nine Units, which is meant to be a refresher course to watch each year. And don’t let the six DVD’s of teaching seminar overwhelm you; they do not need to be watched all in one sitting and can be viewed as you go through the course with your children.

I found the Teacher Seminars to be extremely helpful for me. Mr. Pudewa is engaging and explains his system of writing in an understandable and clear way. One of the things I really appreciated was the ‘Practicum’ sessions.  These were periods during the DVD, when I actually had to do the same type of writing exercise that I was requiring of my children. This certainly gave me insight into teaching them, and also gave me a bit of empathy as well.

So how did I use this? I decided to use this with the small homeschooling co-op we are involved in. Conveniently, the other family had purchased the whole program years before and hadn’t used it in a while, so we agreed to make it a part of our weekly meetings. The program can be used as either a 15 or 30 week curriculum, depending on how quickly you go through the lessons. I chose the 30 week schedule since there were six students, all with varying writing abilities. We would watch the DVD and then discuss the ideas that had been introduced. This is where the teaching seminar was very beneficial and gave me the tools to see what I needed to focus on during our lesson time. The day by day homework schedule is conveniently listed in the student packet. Each week I gave them a homework assignment and then I would ask for their work the following week and correct it, giving positive feedback and advice.

Some of the children in our group were not very keen on writing; I could tell right from the start which ones were going to struggle with this subject. I would focus on the trouble areas during our lessons periods, based on what I saw from their assignments. After two months of lessons I compared their first writing assignment with the most recent and was very happy with the results. Even the children who told me they were quite unhappy that we were doing a writing curriculum during co-op, said that Mr. Pudewa made it fun for them and that they wanted to continue to go through this course.

I must say I am quite impressed with this product. I even find myself, when I feel that my writing needs something more, adding dress-ups and using the techniques that Mr. Pudewa talks about in the program. This curriculum gives your children the confidence to become writers, and the tools to outline, take notes, and summarize. It is also quite flexible; you can move ahead if your children are more advanced, or go at a slower pace as needed. You can also, at any time, substitute your own paragraphs to use as assignments. I am planning to continue to use this program for all my children and have been very happy with the changes I have seen all of their writing.

Product review by Charlotte Gochnauer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, 2013