Student Writing Intensive, Level B

Andrew Pudewa
Institute for Excellence in Writing
Grade / Age level: 

Occasionally, friends or readers ask my opinion about various writing programs. I never feel qualified to answer, because I have rarely used writing programs in our homeschool. I’ve mainly taught my girls about writing as we write.

Initially, I taught them about things like rough drafts. I wanted them to know that they’re called “rough” for a reason, and that we should let our drafts be messy -- full of cross-outs, scribbles and insertions.

The other thing I wanted my children to understand about writing was that there are radically different kinds, suited to different purposes. It’s one thing to write a poem, a short story, or a novel. It’s another matter entirely to write a newspaper article, an essay or a research paper. Not everyone will be drawn to creative writing (which is where I think many writing programs fail) but we all need to acquire the skill of expressing ourselves intelligently on paper.

Awhile back, I received a review copy of the Student Writing Intensive, Level B (SWI) from Andrew Pudewa’s Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). I tried it out on my kids, and they immediately pronounced it a success. My girls loved Mr. Pudewa, as they affectionately call him, from the start.

What we loved:

No pencils.
IEW stresses, and I strongly agree, a sort of Magic School Bus/Ms. Frizzle approach to writing: Make messes! Take chances! If it’s a rough draft -- let it be rough! Don’t erase or try to make things come out perfectly on your first attempt.

Do not worry about your handwriting.
Yes! Just get those words out of your head and onto your paper. If we worry about penmanship every time we put pen to paper, we will never learn to write.

I think one mistake that schools and/or writing programs sometimes make is trying to teach too many skills at once: neatness and penmanship, critical thinking, choice of topic, organization, self-expression, creativity, forming an opinion, fashioning an argument, and so on. While all of these aspects of writing are vital, they can’t be taught at the same time. Writing needs to be broken down into its essential parts. Foundations must be formed before mansions are built.

Pudewa doesn’t make that multitasking mistake. He gets it.

Creative Writing is a different kettle of fish

Yes! Too many writing programs try to turn every child into a poet. Writing exercises that begin, “Imagine you are a tree branch in autumn,” make me roll my eyes and they make most kids roll their eyes, too. Not all kids will be poets, but everyone can benefit from knowing how organize information and express it coherently. To this end, SWI begins with some simple exercises that can be life changing for a young writer. Students are presented a paragraph of facts. They are shown how to note key words or phrases for each sentence in that paragraph. The keyword list becomes an outline for structuring and retelling information. With this very simple process, students learn how to assimilate and present information in a report or essay form.

Beyond that outline, style is then taught through “dress ups” that add interest and depth to the work. Creative writing is handled later in the program, and separately (though using some of the same techniques) and I couldn’t be happier about that.

IEW materials teach specific, foundational, seemingly obvious (but clearly not, or we’d have many more “natural” writers in the world) skills that are essential to solid writing. Though I’ve seen only this one IEW product, based on its methods and philosophy, I highly recommend their materials.

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