Friday, July 9, 2010

Moving Away from the IEW Check List

In light of bits and pieces of misinformation that I commonly hear about IEW, I'd like to clear the air! =)  I've met many who say that IEW  is fine for early elementary age, but not for high school. These claims simply are not true. My kids are the proof!

As my kids approached their Dialectic Years, they needed a better writing curriculum. My 10 year old son (5th grade) wrote too much. My 12 year old daughter (7th grade) wrote too little. Further, her writing was not cohesive. I found IEW and I decided to give it a try, based on its excellent reputation.

Each month we advanced a unit in the IEW TWSS.  By the end of the year, they were capable of writing 5 paragraph weekly essays on the Roman Empire.  That's about 9 papers in 9 weeks for each of them!

The next year each had a five paragraph essay published! My son's paper on Ancient Greek hoplites was published in IEW's printed magazine, Magnum Opus. My daughter's paper was published in the on-line version of Magnum Opus, as an Honorable Mention.

 Since then they have also each written 2 or 3 super essays, which are basically 3 sets of 5 paragraph essays on a common theme, put together with transition paragraphs, resulting in over 17 paragraphs!  My kids are refining their skills now. One can always learn new things. They are now able to whip out lab reports for science, papers for Awana club, basically anything that comes their way.

Now I'm hearing that a certain individual marks down any SAT essays that looks formulaic in using IEW techniques. I questioned that so I went to my IEW yahoo group. At the loop, there is an entire folder of rebuttal due to the individual who is misdirecting homeschoolers about IEW. Included is an interview with both the SAT college board and an SAT grader, who have both said there is nothing in the manual that tells them to mark down for any formula.  Also there is a chart on items that SAT graders look for, which incidentally looks a lot like the elements that IEW teaches.

The IEW formula gets a great deal of attack from those who don't use the program.  They say that everyones' papers sound the same. Well, they do in the beginning.  Young writers follow a model and use the checklist and yes, their papers do sound quite similar.

But I have a secret to share with you.  If you walk into any public school, and look at the papers of first, second or third graders posted on the walls, they all sound the same, yet none of them use IEW!

It's all part of the learning process.  In due time, writers mature, internalize concepts, and eventually find their own voice. This is true of any writing method, including IEW.

My kids can have the same assignment, but have completely different takes on the situation, in their own voice.  If they forget to put their names on their papers, I can easily tell who wrote which paper. (I receive them as typed copies, not handwritten.)

Thus, the IEW formula is the beauty of the program. It's a checklist of good things that good writers do.  I can't tell you how many times that we've read a classic and I've pointed out elements that we've been learning in IEW. In fact, this is sort of how Benjamin Franklin educated himself. There is an excerpt of this from his autobiography in the TWSS!  If studying and trying to apply the elements of other great writers positively influenced one of our Founding Fathers, then I am definitely encouraged to use the same technique with my kids!


  1. I read the same today and thought 'oh,no!' since I was planning on buying IEW..thank you very much for clearing this up :)

  2. Thanks for this. I was almost afraid to click on the link from HSB's front page. We've debates buying this for a few years. I've had several non-users tell me exactly what you've said here. I'm gladnto read it's just not true.

  3. I am just beginning IEW with my 3rd and 5th graders this year and looking forward to it. Thank you for your input, because I've seen some of the controversy too and it didn't make sense to me after all I'd heard about the benefits of it.