Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman

Wordsmith / Wordsmith Craftsman
Author:  Janie B. Cheaney
Age:  Middle School / High School
Writing is one of the most challenging subjects for a homeschooling parent to teach.  Yes, physics, chemistry and calculus are difficult; however, they come with answer keys.  Writing, on the other hand, doesn't.  It’s subjective.  Your experience with writing impacts your ability to teach your children how to write.

Sure, there are rules – spelling, grammar, mechanics.  There is structure – parts of a paragraph ,parts of an essay, and genres of writing.  Nonetheless, when it comes to evaluating writing, a parent is limited by his own opinion, bias (we all love our kids and don’t want to discourage them) and perspective.

I think that’s what makes finding a good writing curriculum so difficult – there just isn’t a packaged deal complete with answer key and the solution to what is good writing.

There are good curriculum out there, however.  Timberdoodle has asked me to look at Wordsmith by Janie B. Cheaney.  I received the Creative Writing student and teacher’s guide aimed at 7th to 9th grades and the Wordsmith Craftsman, a self-directed high school program.

Wordsmith 7th to 9th provides a step-by-step approach to understanding the foundations of writing.  Much like with any other subject, if you don’t have the foundation, you can’t build upon it.  Wordsmith starts with basic grammar, works its way to building strong sentences using the parts of speech and then on to developing paragraphs and finally essays.  The focus is on creative writing – description, narrative, dialogue.  This allows the young writer to use his or her experiences in the writing rather than having to pull from research or build a case in their writing. 

The approach is simple, but effective.  As a short course, I think it does provide the foundation for getting a young writer on the path to understanding that writing is more than just putting words on paper.  There is an approach, there are rules, and being able to apply those effectively are the key to success.  If you have never had your child really sit down and walk through how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and finally a full essay, then I can easily recommend this program.  Writing cannot be taken for granted – it must be taught.

As I noted earlier, teaching writing is difficult.  The teacher’s guide provided with this edition is very effective.  Not only does it help with the grammar and basic structure that an answer key can provide, but in a conversational tone helps the parent understand how to evaluate his/her student both through encouragement and constructive criticism.

Prompts are provided throughout the teacher’s text to help you help your child.  Here’s an example:

“Read season poems out loud and comment positively on any details you especially like.  Then go over each line and check for weak spots.  Pay special attention, once again, to nouns and verbs.  Are they concrete and vivid?  Are all the senses included?”

The teacher’s guide is excellent!  It truly empowers the parent to work with his or her student to strengthen his writing.  I’m very impressed. 

Wordsmith Craftsman is focused on the student alone.  As a high school student, independence is key; however, I do wish there was an included parent guide for this book as well.  The level and depth of material covered would benefit from parental guidance, especially for the weak writer.

The books starts by discussing taking notes and outlining.  I can’t stress these two skills enough!  Homeschoolers don’t always learn how to take notes since they don’t sit in classrooms often.  Teach your child to take notes – they will thank you in college!  Outlining is the linchpin for success in writing – if you teach your child to outline, he or she will have far more cohesive and unified papers!

Letters are covered next.  I like this approach because they are simple and allow for different genres – personal and business.  I teach letters in my college course.  What surprised me was the feasibility study required at the end of this chapter.  It goes well beyond what is covered in the chapter and may be overwhelming for a student.

Paragraph techniques followed by word choice emphasis and finally essay are covered.  Each of these skills, as noted previously, are incredibly important.  The essay section begins with descriptive, narrative and expository allowing the student to pull from personal experience to write a paper.  Next comes more common types of research papers found in college – critical and persuasive. 

While the research paper is covered, it isn’t in quite enough depth.  The need for understanding research, citation, third-person perspective and applying style (APA, MLA, etc.) are not addressed. 

I could see this text being a good beginning in tenth or maybe eleventh grade; however, to really be prepared for college, your student needs to explore research in more depth in twelfth grade to be fully prepared for collegiate expectations.

Writing is just as important as math, science and history.  Don’t let it slide!  Don’t just trust that people naturally know how to write.  This just isn’t true.  Writing well is a learned skill just like algebra or biology.  In fact, maybe even more so since every class they encounter in college will require some level of writing.  I’ve even challenged my boys to come up with a career that never requires them to be able to write – they haven’t been able to.

Thank you to Timberdoodle for the opportunity to review this curriculum.  Don’t forget to visit them on Facebook – Timberdoodle is one of my favorite resources for curriculum!

*** I received these programs free of charge as a member of Timberdoodle’s review team in exchange for my honest review.

1 comment:

  1. I really wish there was a teacher's key as well. At this link ( it says, "An inexpensive teacher’s guide is available for parents who want the extra help in teaching creative writing and includes answers, lesson plans, teaching suggestions, and ideas for expanding the lessons. This guide has also been revised, and includes more explanation of the “philosophy” of writing, further tips on revising, more ideas for additional writing assignments, suggestions for incorporating creative writing into other areas of the curriculum (history, science, etc.) and tips on organizing a writers’ club." But i have been unable to find it! I wish it would give a link, if this is legitimate.


Thank you for commenting - I love to hear your thoughts!