Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review of WriteShop Junior Book D Set

WriteShop Review

Writing is one of those things that I assumed would be easy to teach my kids. I love to write. I write well. Ergo, I can teach my kids to write well. That approach worked really well with Therese. With Nicky...not so much. In general, if an approach worked well with Therese, it will not work all that well with Nicky. When the chance came to review the incredibly well-regarded WriteShop, then, I was very anxious to see how it would work for my newly 11 year-old!

Deciding what level to get for Nicky was very, very hard for me. He has not done much in the way of formal writing, but his grammar program is high school level. In fact, he is almost done with formal grammar altogether. Because WriteShop incorporates grammar, I knew that we would be adapting the program regardless of the level we chose. Finally, I decided to go with WriteShop Junior: Book D Set.

The WriteShop website indicates that this level is ideal for third and fourth graders, but that it can also be used for reluctant fifth grade writers and, possibly, some sixth graders. Since Nicky is a rising sixth grader and has, as I indicated, not done much of a formal writing curriculum, I decided to put him here (just for perspective, the Crew was able to pick from WriteShop products through Level E). The WriteShop website indicates that students who have not yet learned punctuation and grammar skills should start with this level. Again, Nicky has mastered both of those skills, so I was hesitant to start him here, but it was the fact that Book D teaches structuring sentences, writing paragraphs, and using sentences of varying length that convinced me to start him here. Book D teaches these skills through letter writing, historical fiction, personal narrative, and mystery and adventure stories (among others).

WriteShop Review
The WriteShop Junior: Book D Set I received came with a lot of components that can be purchased separately! First is the Teacher's Guide ($45.95 - print, $35.50 - ebook). This book is 266 pages long and includes daily lesson plans (which, I know, is a must for some moms!). There is a *ton* of information in this guide. It is ideally suited to the mom who truly has no idea as to how to go about teaching her child writing. Interspersed throughout the guide are quotes from moms who have used the guide explaining features they like. Part of the lesson is 100% scripted, telling you exactly what to say to your child, even going so far as to script the child's correct/anticipated response. You can see a sample here.

WriteShop Review

The set I received also included the Activity Pack with Fold-N-Go Grammar ($45.95 - print, $35.50 - ebook). This product is really neat and will be the primary reason some families will want to seriously consider WriteShop. This product is actually two separate components of WriteShop Book D. One we used extensively and the other we did not (but some families will!). The first part is 60 pages of worksheets that are integral to the writing program. They are the student worksheets, including brainstorming sheets, journal prompts, reading logs, and self-editing checklists. The Teacher Guide will always tell you when you are going to need one of these worksheets. 

WriteShop Review

The second part of the book is the Grammar portion of this program. It is the part that was redundant to our studies, but for families with a need for a grammar program, it is a year's worth of grammar lapbooks! I actually tried to get my son to make one of these Fold-N-Go guides despite the fact that it is years too young for him, but he balked severely (and if you have a special needs child of any kind, especially one with an explosive temper, you know that you pick your battles). These guides are quite ingenious for crafty kids, though. Using your own file folders, you print what are essentially reference guides on each of the parts of speech, capitalization, and references on colored paper and you then assemble portable reference guides you can keep on hand. Reference bookmarks are also included. Throughout the WriteShop Teacher's Guide, you are prompted to have your child refer to the Fold-N-Gos if he forgets what, for example, an adjective is.

I also received the Time Saver Pack ($11.50 - ebook only). This one is optional, but it is neat to have. 

This resource contains 20 pages of game cards, tokens, and other materials that are referenced in the WriteShop Teacher's Guide. If you plan to use every aspect of the program, you will want to purchase this add-on. While you could make these materials yourself, for the small added cost, it is definitely worth it to buy it from the company. You will save yourself so much time!

Nicholas (11) and WriteShop

This is a program I wanted to love. There were parts of it that I really did enjoy, and using it with Nicky definitely showed me where I need to concentrate my efforts in teaching him to write, but the main thing I learned from trying to use WriteShop with Nicky is that the program is not suited to either one of our personalities. First of all, I don't do well with fully scripted programs. I don't need the script. I never stick to a schedule laid out for me in a program to begin with (I always do way more than is allotted for a single day), and I never use a program without tweaking it at least a little. All of that adds up to Script=Bad. Second, neither Nicky nor I are crafty. This program lends itself to crafty. There are games that require some cutting of materials, the Fold-N-Gos are all about crafting, etc. Third, for me, the amount of teacher preparation required for this program seemed very intense. Please let me clarify: for some moms, this wouldn't be the case. We are all so different! I don't mind reading 200 pages of Homer in order to get ready to discuss The Iliad with my daughter. I love it. It's not work. Ask me to try to look between different books to print this page and collate it with that page because we have to consider this game or that all just to write a letter of invitation and I glaze over. I just sat down with Nicky and said, "Write a letter of invitation." Bada boom. This program is definitely one of those that is either right up your alley or not. It's that simple.

So I've made it pretty clear what we didn't do (cutting, games). What did we do? Ah, the beauty of homeschooling! There is a ton in this program that makes it very worthwhile even for those of us who don't care for the "extras." I knew pretty much right away that 85% of the program was too young for Nicky (even in the lesson in Haiku, which he really enjoyed, the script, which I didn't use, but enjoyed reading parts out loud to him, prompted me to remind him what an adjective was if he didn't remember - he thought that was hilarious). That was my fault. When they say 3rd grade, they are pretty much right on. I was going on the lack of formal writing instruction, but, as it turns out, Nicky writes pretty well for someone who hasn't had much formal writing instruction - I credit that to reading quality books. I digress. What I did was not go in the order of the book, and I went MUCH faster than is intended. I did the first lesson immediately upon receiving WriteShop, and then realized that if I didn't want open rebellion on my hands, we were going to have to move forward and jump around. This is not the way the program is intended - it is definitely iterative and builds on itself, especially if you are also using the grammar portion. However, we were not using the grammar portion, and when you are teaching a 2e (twice exceptional) kid, you are used to asynchronicity and to jumping around!

My next stop was Haiku. I remember loving learning about it when I was a kid, and I hoped that learning something completely different would be interesting for Nicky, too. It was! Again, much of the material in the Teacher's Guide was superfluous. It has one teaching syllables. Nicky *did* have trouble learning syllables back when he was 4 (it is legendary in our family how he made "mailbox" have first one, then three), but thankfully those days are behind us! He enjoyed the challenge of thinking of multi-syllable words to describe his subject (dogs), however, and I relished a little less the challenge of requiring him to spend more than 10 minutes on the task. 

In the end, though, he came up with this:


awesome, loving, cute
bounding playfully outside
bright, black, beautiful

Now all of the kids want to write Haiku. The process through which WriteShop takes a student in order to write a finished Haiku is quite good. Whether you need a complete script or whether you prefer to free form, the worksheets for brainstorming are terrific, and I love that you can print as many as you want with the ebook version.

After Haiku, I backtracked to science fiction (we're on a big Doctor Who kick here right now). Again, while I skipped a lot of the "extras" that I know some other moms are going to love, but that send Nicky into a tantrum-tailspin, there was still so much in this chapter to love! The objective of this lesson is adding details to the middle of a story, and this is an area where Nicky is weak. Like most kids, he loves to write stories and, like most kids, he starts off with a bang, writes enthusiastically, wanes in the middle, and then has his surprise stellar ending! Again, for us, it was the journal prompt and brainstorming pages that were instrumental in helping Nicky understand the importance of those middle section details. For kids who are more tactile, there is a neat construction paper "sandwich" activity that could be very illustrative of the key ingredient that is the middle! 

Nicky wouldn't let me include his story here. He was embarrassed enough that I wrote down his Haiku (I was allowed to do so on the condition that I edited for spelling - his original spelling of beautiful was not included in the final draft posted here). I was so pleased, though! He definitely learned from the WriteShop lesson.

Recently, Nicky has been working on writing a personal narrative. Here he is sitting in my room working on writing down emotions he experienced and the senses through which he experienced them (ignore the knitting bags spilling over in the corner). This assignment has been a little challenging for him. Like most boys his age, he is not used to really thinking about the nuances associated with his emotions. I am anxious to see how this assignment plays out.

Concluding Thoughts

As I said, I really wanted to like WriteShop. While I definitely found ways to use it with Nicky, it is not exactly what I hoped for. I can definitely see it being an ideal program for some families, though. For kids who love any curriculum that incorporates crafts or games, this is perfect. For moms who want to make writing fun and want a program that makes grammar integral (and crafty!), this is perfect. If you require a script, this is perfect. Further, for all you get, it's very reasonably priced. Finally, if you start your journey with WriteShop, you will not be disappointed with the later levels of the program!

You can find WriteShop at the following places on the Web:


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