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Writers in Residence Volume 1: Apprentice Review by Rebecca Ray

Debra Bell
Apologia Educational Ministries
1106 Meridian Plaza, Suite 220/340
Anderson, Indiana 46016

I have a daughter who loves to write. She is constantly creating stories, drawing pictures and putting them together to tell her stories. Then, she spends time getting energized to create more by remembering what she created. Although we have tried several writing programs, I have not found one that she enjoys yet. To her, they have all felt like too much work when all she wants to do is to develop stories and write them. So, when I received an opportunity to try Debra Bell’s new middle grades writing curriculum, Writers in Residence Volume 1: Apprentice, with my daughter, I jumped at the opportunity to see if it was something that she liked.

I received a copy of the all-in-one student text and workbook along with the answer key. This two-book set retails on the Apologia website for $89.00, and is aimed at students in the age range of fourth to eighth grade.  The textbook is consumable, and the student reads the text and writes his/her assignments directly into it. The book is set up as a full 32 week, four day as week curriculum, although you are free to adapt the schedule as you see fit.

There are six units in the book, and each unit is broken down into four modules. By completing the short assignments within each module, by the end of a unit the student will complete one fully revised final draft essay for that unit. The units in the book alternate between four types of writing. These are: (1) “I Remember” personal narratives, (2) “I Imagine” creative writing assignments, (3) “I Investigate” research assignments, and (4) ”I think” opinion and argument writing. This book has two “I Remember” and “I Imagine” units, and one of each of the “I Investigate” and “I Think” units. If following the guidelines in the textbook, each unit will take approximately five weeks to complete.

Along with teaching the mechanics of writing and how to come up with ideas, the textbook also teaches and tests students on grammar. This book actually spends as much time teaching grammar as it does writing, and in that respect, could be used as a combination grammar and writing curriculum. The assignments are short and flow naturally into writing from the grammar and using grammar rules to revise writing.

My daughter and I have really enjoyed our experience with this curriculum. She’s a fourth grader, and there are places where this curriculum is a challenge, so we’ve been working at a slightly slower pace than the recommended schedule, and I’ve allowed her to sometimes orally complete assignments instead of requiring them to be written. She has enjoyed the short segments of work because she feels very accomplished as she looks back and sees what work has been done. She also likes that the curriculum begins with the personal narrative and imaginative writing assignments. Those are her favorite types of writing, so she really likes how big a part they play in this textbook.

One of my favorite things about the curriculum is how they use sentences from real books. For example, in the first unit, the student is digging into their memories, as inspired by Cynthia Rylant’s book When I Was Young in the Mountains. (However, if you do not own the book, a copy of the book is not necessary for completing the unit.) Students are taught to use Rylant’s sentence structure to create their own memory sentences. They practice vigorous verbs using sentences from Theodore Taylor’s The Cay. Throughout the text, real writing that the students may have already encountered are referenced and used as examples of how to make their writing better. I love that aspect of the book.

The only drawback that I have found with this curriculum is that the text is a consumable workbook. It has beautiful, high-quality drawings and ample space to write. However, as a mom to four children, I do like to buy curricula that I can reuse without completely rebuying the curriculum. As a Mom, I would have preferred that we have a book and a journal or workbook more in line with Apologia’s worldview or science curricula. However, I will concede that because of the nature of the assignments and the fact that there is more practice and less “text” in the book, that may not be a workable idea. My fourth grader loves the text just as it is, and she will be continuing to use this curriculum long after this review has been written.

--Product review by Rebecca Ray, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July, 2016