In order to teach composition in cottage school, I wanted to choose a curriculum proven tried and true. Annie and I had a year’s experience of using the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s curriculum with our oldest girls, and we already could see some of the benefits of this method. The problem with any writing curriculum is that it’s not easy to teach kids how to write. It takes time, patience, and consistency. It requires a parent willing to do the hard work to understand the material well before teaching it. The great news about IEW is that you don’t have to have an English degree, like me, to teach it. Once you invest in their materials, you have so many resources at your disposal to help you learn and grow as a writer yourself. Is it easier for me to teach this material? Yes, and it’s also easier for me to know which parts are the most important and which parts aren’t. That’s why I’m going to help you learn how to navigate this giant resource–and maybe simplify it a little for you over the next few weeks.
First of all, let’s talk about the materials themselves. When you teach IEW, you’ll see that you have a teacher’s lesson notebook, a seminar notebook for the teacher with accompanying videos called Structure and Style, a student’s lesson notebook, a student resource packet, and a student resource notebook. There are a variety of topics available for the student notebooks. (My daughter and I completed one on ancient history first. In Cottage School, we used one on geography last year and plan on using the C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” one this school year.) There are also vocabulary flash cards in some of the student notebooks that can be removed from the back. In addition, there are endless resources on www.iew.com. And IEW sends you podcast reminder emails all the time! That sounds overwhelming already, right?
You can simplify the materials you use. I’ll start with the Student Resource Packet and the Student Resource Notebook because they overlap a lot. Pick one to use with your student(s) and stick with it. The packet is exhaustive and best used with older or second/third year students. The notebook is smaller and best used with the youngest or newest students to IEW–grades 3-5. Also, please utilize these resources. Don’t ignore them and just use the teacher’s and student’s lesson notebooks. You will miss out on all of the handouts that will help you and your student understand IEW’s methods. In the packet, there are helpful posters you can tape to your walls or stick to your blackboard as helpful reminders for the student while writing. In both the resource packet and the resource notebook, there are numerous handouts. This is not unusual by any means. As a composition instructor for almost two decades, I have given students handouts to use while writing every single year of teaching. I have written reminders on the blackboard for in-class writings to help the students as they write in class. Things like banned words don’t have to be memorized from the start, or ever for that matter, but you can help your student proofread for those by having these resources at your fingertips.
The main takeaway should be to not skip out on using one of these two: Student Resource Notebook or Student Resource Packet. Both are free to download when you purchase any IEW curriculum. They are amazing resources that you should take the time to familiarize yourself with as the instructor. And you’ll find that if you encourage your students to do the same, they will. My daughter knows on what page to find the -ly adverb list. She has the page numbers memorized better than I do, and she should since she is the budding writer. If she is stuck trying to remember banned words, I send her to the resource to find the list herself. Not only is she learning how to write and proofread her own writing, she is learning how to take the time to look information up for herself in a book–and not on Google.
I hope this motivates you to download those resources if you have already purchased IEW’s curriculum. I also hope that if you don’t use this curriculum, that you’d at least take a look at it. I am not being paid to sell this material to you, but I am telling you as a former high school English teacher and a current college English instructor, this curriculum is one of the most thorough composition methods I have ever seen–and I have seen many in my nineteen years as a teacher.
Also, like always, I’m here if you have questions. IEW also provides so much help for you as a teacher that you’ll never be without answers to help you teach this seemingly complicated process if you will seek to find them.