Friday, May 13, 2011

Institute for Excellence in Writing Review

Institute for Excellence in Writing
Student Writing Intensive - Group C

Cost:  $99

I was excited to review IEW C because my children have already been through Level B. This gave me a bit of an advantage on the review and using the curriculum in my home. Level B was taught through our local co-op.

I would note that I teach college English, so my perspective is taken from what I want to see college students capable of.

What I really like about IEW is the concentration on improving writing. This isn’t a curriculum that teaches a complete novice how to write; this is a curriculum that teaches a decent writer how to become a strong writer. The curriculum teaches the student to incorporate the following “dress-ups” into their sentences:

“ly” adverbs * Who/which clauses *Strong verbs *Quality adjectives *

Teaching students that it’s not just what they say but the words they choose that makes for good writing is important. Working on making writing descriptive and engaging is a terrific skill.

In addition to the “dress-ups”, IEW emphasizes “Sentence Openers”.

Subject, prepositional, “-ly” adverb, -ing, clausal, and V.S.S. (very short sentences)

Again, not always starting with the subject is what adds variety and expression to our writing. I see a lot of what I would call “flat” writing in college. Students have a standard vocabulary and emphasize simple or compound rather than complex sentences. Pudewa’s enforcement of sentence variety is excellent.

All of this is accomplished through the use of rubrics (see examples above). Students must check-off as they write that these strategies have been incorporated into each paragraph. Forcing students to include these techniques and to evaluate their approach to writing is valuable. They see where they can enhance their writing through each exercise and rubric.

Each lesson provides students with a written work that they are to enhance. As an alternative, students can change the story, modify the characters or the storyline. This allows them to focus on the rubric rather than trying to develop a story of their own.

While I appreciate the focus on the stylistic details of writing, I do wish that there was emphasis on source citation. This may be provided in other IEW curricula. When a student simply changes the wording of a piece, this doesn’t make it that student’s writing. It still belongs to the original author. Since Level C is for older students, I believe it is very important to emphasize this. When they move on to college, plagiarism is a big issue. If they believe that changing the words makes the writing theirs, then they will be in for a hard lesson when their first writing class accuses them of plagiarizing. Since I deal with this every term, I know how important this lesson is for students.

My boys have spent the last two years using IEW to enhance their writing. They are both strong writers, so this curriculum was an excellent addition to our school year. They really had to focus on what they write as much as how they write. They didn’t love watching the DVD’s; however, I felt like they were strong instructionally. Additionally, I made the boys take notes as we watched the DVD’s giving the opportunity to practice notetaking that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

IEW is easy to use. It may seem confusing at first, but trust the instruction or use the Structure and Style Overview to help guide you.

Personally, I won’t rely solely on IEW for my boys high school years, but I am glad we spent two years working through the program and really enhancing their writing.

To see other reviews by the TOS Homeschool Crew click here.

*** I was provided IEW free of charge as part of my participation on the TOS Homeschool Crew for my honest review.


  1. As always, I enjoyed reading your review. : ) I never thought of the plagiarism aspect, but that completely makes sense.
    I have wanted IEW for a long time, and we thoroughly have enjoyed it. I, like you, will combine it with other writing lessons/material (The Lively Art of Writing, The Elements of Style, etc.).

  2. I agree! I was looking forward to hearing your take on this one. I liked it, especially as it allowed Nick to take a new, different look at how to write. It really reached him, I believe. I am planning to use it more and use Easy Grammar plus next year. I can't wait to do it with my daughter, who already loves writing. Good addition, discussing the potential for plagiarism.


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