The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews
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Byline (Highschool Writing Course) Review by Melissa Batai and Christy BagasaoDaniel Schwabauer
P.O. Box 62
Olathe, KS 66051
Byline is a high school writing program for 8th to 12th graders from the same creators of One Year Adventure Novel and Cover Story. Byline comes with a number of different components—a Teacher’s Guide, a Training Manual (for the student), a Journalist Notebook, and two newspapers—Metro and Retro World (these are used as supplements to the program) as well as either DVDs or streaming of the video lessons. The complete set with the DVD option is $189. If you choose the complete set with streaming, you will receive one-year access for $169. This program counts as one high school English credit, but it can also count as 0.5 high school history credit if the student reads all of the articles in the Metro and Retro World (rather than treating them as supplements), reads three to five stories from the “Extra! Extra!” section of the website or listens to the equivalent number of podcasts from the website and writes two additional 500 to 800-word articles. Younger students (in 8th and 9th grade) can choose the Flex Track. In total, there are 22 stories students should write for the Metro World over the course of the year, but students following the Flex Track only write 16 stories. They still do all the research and assignments for the other six stories, but they don’t actually write them.
This program is designed for homeschool students (though traditional schools and homeschool co-op groups should also be able to use it) and teaches both essay writing and journalism skills. There are six four-week units in the program, and students are expected to work three days a week. Each day, there is a short, eight to fifteen-minute video to watch which teaches the day’s lesson. The premise of the program is that the student is a cub reporter for the Metro World in the 1930s working with Mr. S. (Schwabauer dressed in era-appropriate clothing) and Madge Witherspoon (owner of the Metro World).
From the beginning, Witherspoon urges the student to find stories that aren’t the common ones we all know throughout history. The student needs to dig up the stories that others have forgotten—or never knew. This course is perfect for history buffs, but also for students who have innate curiosity and want to know more about a topic of interest to them. This program is wonderfully flexible in that students can often choose their own topics. For instance, in Lesson 16, students create their own opinion column based on a topic that is of interest to them. Even when they’re assigned a topic, such as the Hindenburg disaster, they get to decide which angle to take.
In addition to writing articles, students also write different types of poems and press releases. The program also has stories and newspaper articles (many from the turn of the 20th century) for students to read such as an article by G. K. Chesterton. One of my son’s favorite parts of the reading was Personality Highlights. Every week, students read short snippets about interesting people in history such as Mary Bowser and Elizabeth van Lew (Union spies during the Civil War) and Ann Harvey (a 17-year-old girl who helped her father rescue 160 shipwrecked people in her native Canada).
My child is in 8th grade and is a reluctant writer, but he admitted that this is the best writing program that he has used. He enjoyed the visual lessons that started off each day’s assignment, and he loved digging in to find stories that weren’t so commonly known. He’s not good at seeing both sides of an issue, and this program stretched him to do that, which I appreciated as a parent.
I really enjoyed this program and found very little I disliked about it. The only change I made was that the teacher’s guide suggested that parents grade students’ work once per unit (basically once a month), but my child needs more immediate feedback, so I graded his work more often. Also, although this is a fairly hands-off program for parents, I found that I was better able to keep up with what my son was doing if I also watched the videos each week. Finally, some of the articles that are included were published over one hundred years ago, and, due to the older language style, may be a bit difficult for younger students to read and understand.
If you or your student is looking for an alternative to typical dry, boring writing programs, I highly recommend Byline. This is an excellent program that will prepare your children for both the research and writing they will need to do in college and their adult lives.
-Product review by Melissa Batai, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018
Another Reviewer Perspective:
Byline (Highschool Writing Course)
Clear Water Press, Inc.
The fate of many a student’s opinion of the writing process has been held for decades in the hands of teachers and professors, many of whom take the child’s potential love of writing and put an end to it at the blade of a guillotine known as English class. Homeschoolers aren’t exempt. I’ve experienced the same with my kids who loved writing—I put a writing curriculum in their hands, and suddenly their favorite activity incited them to grumbling, broken pencils, and even tears.
How’s a homeschool parent to teach a child to write his own college scholarship essays or otherwise clearly communicate on paper (or screen) without losing the love of forming a finely-turned phrase, when many professionals can’t achieve this minor miracle? After all, finding the right teacher or curriculum isn’t as simple as running your finger down the pages of a phone book or asking Google.
Or maybe it is that simple. Maybe it’s easier. Maybe it’s as basic as popping in a DVD or clicking a link and starting a lesson from Clear Water Press, Inc. That’s how it worked for us! The course that made my pencil-hating high school daughter smile with a surprised, “I like it!” is Daniel Schwabauer’s Byline.
You may know Daniel Schwabauer from his previous two writing curricula, One Year Novel and Cover Story. In a similar style to those educational superstars, Byline finds Daniel taking (mostly) high school students on an adventure that has them learning without entirely realizing they’re learning. This time, they’re practicing numerous journalistic and research techniques with the end result of mastering the academic essay...without the guillotine. It’s sheer genius.
The students, in our case Elisabeth (17) and Emily (15), are employed by the fictitious newspaper Metropolitan World as “chronojournalists” Who’s a what-a?! That’s what I asked. Elisabeth explains that “a chronojournalist writes about other times.” In other words, the students don their reporter hats and research buried news stories from history, learning about other time periods in the process.
The lessons are brief and fun, usually scheduled three times a week to complete in a full school year. According to Elisabeth, “We usually see a short clip that introduces a story from history or demonstrates what we’ll be learning. Mr Schwabauer explains it, gives tips, and reads an excerpt from something. Sometimes there’s a short reading along with an exercise and a notebook assignment.”
As the lessons progress, the course moves on to more complex research and writing assignments. Sometimes Mr. S. shares videos from Madge Witherspoon. According to Elisabeth, “She owns the newspaper we’re supposed to write for.” The students are also reading articles by quality news reporters of old to visualize the techniques they’re learning about.
By the end of the program, students learn to write a full-fledged academic essay, appropriate for college level classes and scholarship applications. They will understand the following essay types: descriptive, narrative, persuasive, and expository. They will also understand several journalistic techniques and the six elements of journalism as they write feature stories, columns, hard news, and other news copy.
After all 72 video lessons, the cub reporters will have written 22 news stories. If you have a young (eighth or ninth grade) or struggling student, you can put them on the Flex Plan, which means they will be completing 16 projects instead of 22. All told, the lessons and assignments are enough for one high school English credit.
At the same time, the students will be digging into history. The course site outlines a simple method of bumping up the work by only a little to earn half a history credit as well. Talk about taking full advantage of your student’s valuable time!
The complete Byline program consists of a series of videos (as Elisabeth described above) available either through online streaming (one-year access) or as DVDs. It also includes a consumable training manual and reporter’s notebook for each student, and a teacher’s guide for grading, lesson guides, assigned reading, and testing. The student books complement the videos, adding more depth to the lessons and guiding the reporters through their assignments.
A huge perk of the Byline curriculum, apart from producing strong writer, has to do with the issue of propaganda. Students are taught to think critically not only so they can produce spin-free writing, but also so they can detect propaganda in the writing or speaking of others. Living in the spin-zone with propaganda swiping at our kids from every angle, it’s good to get their critical thinkers fully activated before they’re on their own, don’t you agree?
This quote from the Byline website explains both their emphasis on critical thinking and their casual nature:
“Clarity of thought and presentation will set any college student apart. For that matter, it will set any writer apart. A student who practices essay writing using a more relaxed and personable style—for instance, the style employed by journalists—will have a huge advantage over students who don’t.”
Byline advertises itself as “parent-friendly.” To me that phrase means I don’t have to be very involved, because, hey, somebody has to make dinner. It means the students are in charge of their own learning. To this mom, it also means the kids will not complain, grumble, procrastinate, or otherwise avoid doing the lessons to the best of their ability (in other words, it’s kid-friendly, too). Finally, it means they will learn the task at hand thoroughly, so I don’t have to supplement or otherwise fill in the gaps. I completely agree that Byline is indeed parent-friendly.
We followed the Byline curriculum exactly as written with no tweaks. Our two high school girls are going through it together and have encountered no difficulties. They are thoroughly enjoying it. Best of all, it is effective.
The only thing I would change about our version is that we would prefer the DVDs over the streaming. The streaming is wonderful, but with four more students in the pipeline, and the program being so ideal for our family, I would love to be able to reuse the DVDs and teacher’s guide with future students, only buying more student books. That’s a personal preference based on our family size and frugality. The perk to the streaming, however, is that you are forced to complete the program within a certain amount of time, which is accountability we sometimes need. Still, I prefer the ability to work more at our own speed in case a student is struggling. Rather than take out a few assignments, I’d prefer to slow down overall, so for us, DVDs are a better option.
At the risk of sounding like a gushing teenager, I couldn’t be happier with this program so far. I’m delighted with the approach, the high-quality filming and sound, the emphasis on detecting the media’s propaganda and persuasion tactics, the writing and researching techniques being taught, and the multi-disciplinary learning. The main reason for my enthusiasm is that, for the first time ever, my pencil-hater really enjoys a writing curriculum. In her own words, “The curriculum is professional, easy to use, and holds your attention well. I’m really enjoying it.” That’s more than enough for me!
-Product review by Christy Bagasao, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018