Thursday, May 15, 2008

How We Use Institute for Excellence in Writing

For years my kids struggled with their writing skills. My daughter couldn’t write cohesively, whereas my son was overly verbose. As a result, their writing did not make sense. Although I had always been told by my teachers that I was a good writer and I had great success teaching writing in public school, I ran into a deadend trying to teach writing to my own children.

A few years ago when I started learning about classical education, I learned about several great curriculums which we now successfully use.  One of these was Institute for Excellence in Writing. 

IEW has been hailed by moms with special needs children who struggle and can’t figure out how to get started. In addition, moms of quick learners have raved about how IEW helps their children to fly with fine tuning their writing skills, knowing exactly how to tackle any assignment with precision and skill. The beauty of the program is that it teaches structure. Elements that have proven successful to writers for years have been encapsulated into structural models. The entire spectrum of variety of every imaginable type of paragraph in the world (essay of argumentation, mystery writing, essay of experience, essay of definition, story based on memory, problem/solution essay, etc) has been streamlined into the basic parts. Also, all the paragraph structures are put in one of two groups: creative or expository. Suddenly, the overwhelming conglomeration of all the possible paragraph structures made sense to me.

While teaching structure, style is added in manageable bits and pieces. Beginning writing styles emerge into life. I have heard many critics say that all IEW student writing sounds the same or that IEW students sound like Andrew Pudewa, who heads the program. I disagree. I have many of Andrew’s papers and not one of my kids' papers sound like his. Furthermore, when my kids have identical writing assignments on the same topic, their products look completely different. By the time they are done assimilating the facts they deem most important and add their unique style, I have 2 completely different papers on my desk. If they forget to put their names on the papers, I can easily tell who wrote which one!  Their individual styles are unique and obvious! 

While learning how to use the structural models in IEW, I would look for excellent examples in good books.  I want my kids to be aware of what good writers do.  Now that they have internalized many of the concepts, they spot good writing on their own!

IEW effectively summarizes the best of what good writers do and organizes it so children know what to do and when to do it. That’s the structure part. Then they add their own personal style, which they can manipulate over the homeschool years, until they find their voice by the time they graduate. This is the Classical Model of Education. This is the process of moving from grammar through dialectic to rhetorical skills needed in our world. This is the means by which powerful speakers like Patrick Henry and influential writers like Thomas Jefferson impacted not only a nation, but the world.

The core of the program, which I purchased, is the TWSS: Teaching Writing Structure and Style. This is a notebook that comes with DVDs of Andrew Pudewa taking a group of teachers step by step through the writing program. Wow! Everything fell into place. Instead of dumping an entire writing program on a child, IEW builds skills and confidence step by step through a highly logical and successful process. Children who used to protest over writing assignments have been known to proceed without a quiver with IEW. Many even come to love it!  Even though these DVDs target the teacher, my kids have been known to suspend all school work while they sat upstairs in the open loft in great delight to Andrew's humor, while I was sitting downstairs watching the training DVDs. My daughter still laughs and tells everyone about how Andrew made a toothbrush interesting in his "Writing from the Brain" lesson. 

There are 9 units. In our first year using IEW, I taught one unit for each month of the school year. In the first month, my kids learned how to start! Then over the next few units they learned to write a good solid paragraph. By the end of the year, they were able to write a 5 paragraph essay, research report and literary analysis. They had also learned to write story summaries using plot structure and how to fearlessly create their own. They learned to write creatively from pictures and from the brain. We wanted to write a play for our Y1U3 celebration on Ancient Greece, using Aesop’s fable the Tortoise and the Hare. Where to start? I asked my IEW yahoo group and the moderator directed me to story structure in Unit 3. Well of course. That made perfect sense! My kids were ages 13 and 11 when we finished our first year of IEW. This gain is appropriate for their age level. Younger students might not get to the 5 paragraph essay until upper grammar or middle school years. The TWSS notebook gives guidelines on how to use each unit with each grade level. It is a wonderful investment for all ages for the entire family!

Another thing I like about IEW is that we can use it to write about the things we are already learning. Time is precious. Why write about yet another subject when we are already spending time in history, literature and science? My kids use IEW to write their science labs, to write about something they are currently learning in TOG, to do an Awana writing assignment or enter a writing contest. Before IEW, we labored over simple Awana assignments to get them to make sense. Now that my kids have IEW basics under their belts, they sneak in Awana writing projects behind my back! I don’t even find out about it until the night they come home from Awanas and tell me what they got passed on! Then they show me their papers that make sense.

After our first year of IEW, my kids had learned all the units and all the styles of writing for creative and expository writing. However, they were not yet strong in knowing which model to apply to each writing assignment they received. Therefore, we built our own writing notebooks.

The IEW yahoo support group has wonderful files. I have downloaded many of them, making 3 of each. Then I laid the copies out in categories that made sense to me. Basically, there is one for each IEW unit, one for each dress up, checklists and rubrics and extra categories that were helpful to me. Then I got enough dividers for each category and labeled them. I had my children make the same dividers. Now when they get a writing assignment, we talk about which IEW writing model best fits the assignment. Then we turn to that model to remind them of how to structure the paper. Then they outline (KWO) their research or thoughts. Then they write their rough draft. After that they type their paper into the computer. (Using the computer has revolutionized our writing time!) At any time they need to be reminded of how to do a dress up or style requirement, they can reference their notebook. They e-mail their papers to me, I print them out, and go over it with them. We edit together and they make changes towards a nice final copy. We usually do a paper a week. Major projects like term papers or super essays I allow extra weeks.

IEW continues to supply my students with wonderful resources beyond the basics of the TWSS. I have numerous other wonderful resources I will share later. As far as building the writing notebook, anytime I get more in depth ideas from my yahoo group, I print it out and use it to teach additional skills to my dc. This is a section on literary analysis, which expands unit 9 on critiques to a deeper level.

My kids continually build their notebook with applicable resources, producing a wonderful resource for a lifetime of successful writing.


  1. Fabulous post Laurie!! Thank you so much! This will be great to direct others to as well, I have talked about IEW so positively that I have several friends who are going to be starting it! I wish that I could hold your dc's writing notebooks in my hands and look through them in detail. Perhaps I will email you later, I have some specific questions. I have searched and searched through the files section at the yahoo group and am not finding all that I think you have printed out for their notebooks (it's also entirely possible that I could be missing something!). Thanks again for taking the time to write out how this excellent curriculum has revolutionized your homeschool. Would your kids let you share some of their early work here?



  2. Wow! Thank you for such a thorough review! Did you purchase only the core materials that you mentioned, or did you also purchase one of the writing intensives?

    Thanks again!


  3. and you did a wonderful jo explaining all its ins and outs. Yet another program for me to look into. Thanks for this review.

  4. MayTheyBeMightyMenMay 16, 2008 at 12:49 PM

    This is a program I have looked at a few times. There are such mixed reviews on any curriculum, but you do a great job of laying it out. I'm more intrigued than ever on this one.

    I'm just not sure what to make of IEW and my kids' ages. I'll have to look again and figure out how it fits into our world.

  5. I'm about to attend a curriculum fair tomorrow and will be visiting the IEW booth.

    I appreciate your opinion on TWSS (I think it will be helpful)

    and maybe High School Essay Intensive Level C

    Thanks for your blog :)

  6. Thanks for directing me to your blog. I am looking into it, the only thing that scares me so far is the price :-)

    Question: do you use writing assignments only suggested by IEW (I see on their website they offer history linked programs, do you use these) or do you combine it with Writing Aids for TOG, alternating?


  7. I have not used any other IEW products than the TWSS. Even though I have the TOG Writing Aids, I never use it. It was not enough help to us. Instead, I apply the IEW concepts to any writing assignment. BTW I rarely use a TOG suggested writing assigment. My wheels are always turning and I usually crank out our own assignments, many of which are related to topics we are studying with TOG.



  8. Thanks for this helpful post. I'm homeschooling classically and have decided to use IEW next year. I also plan to start a little Socratic Club based on the Teaching the Classics method by Adam and Misty Andrews. I also use TOG. I'm wondering if you've tried assigning writing projects the IEW way from literature the Teaching the Classics way. It makes sense to me to take the literature assignment from TOG, discuss it the Teaching the Classics way and then writing about it the IEW way. But I don't know anyone who's tried this. Do you?

  9. Yes, Nicole, I have definitely incorporated the three as you have suggested!



  10. hey laurie!!

    I was poking around your blog again and came to your IEW posts....

    today, specifically i'm interested in learning more about your IEW notebooks (both student and teacher)-- what types of things from the IEW yahoo group (of which i'm a member) you print out to include in your (or their) binder.

    did you just go through the list's file area and print things up? posting conversations?

    do tell!

    in doing so (replying) please either let me know over at my blog (so i'll know to look at your blog for your reply) or else make a post on your blog. (Homeschoolblogger doesn't seem to have capability to RSS subscribe to comments so i won't know if you reply if you do so in your comments)