Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: WriteShop

One of the things Ashlyn has been really interested in learning this year, is more about grammar, writing, and language arts in general. So when we got the opportunity to review one of WriteShop's products, she begged to be allowed to do it. While Lexie could use the knowledge, she has no interest, and I decided not to push it at this point (I suspect that, at some point, the fact that Ashlyn is better than her, will prompt her to build these skills). After looking over the recommended grade levels, placement help and samples on the WriteShop website, I finally settled on the WriteShop Junior: Book D Set (ebooks).

We received the Teacher's Guide ($35.50), Activity Pack ($35.50), and Time-Saver Pack ($11.50). I opted for the ebooks, since we would be receiving it right after my husband's surgery and I couldn't predict whether we'd be at home or at my parents' house. WriteShop Junior is a creative writing curriculum for grades K-6 that is advertised as being a fun option for a writing-phobic child. It includes games and activities in each lesson, and along with writing, it teaches grammar and self-editing. 
Level D is for 3rd & 4th graders and focuses on teaching punctuation and grammar along with planning and organizing your writing. The each of the 10 lessons focuses on a specific type of writing such as writing a letter of invitation, science fiction, and haiku. 

I received these ebooks while my husband was still in the hospital after surgery, and the girls were staying with my parents, a couple hours away. Sitting around the hospital for days, gave me time to read over the Teacher's Guide and get a feel for how to use this curriculum. The Teacher's Guide gives several different options for how to schedule the lessons, taking into account that homeschoolers sometimes do 4 day school weeks or other alternative schedules. I chose a schedule that I thought would work well for Ashlyn and me, and went over the included supply lists to decide what we needed to get. It recommends having a way to keep everything together, so I decided to get a file box with hanging files. It also has a small compartment on top where Ashlyn keeps pens, and other editing supplies. She LOVES it!

The part that I knew would appeal the most to Ashlyn was the Fold-n-Go Grammar folders, and I was right! The first day of each lesson focuses on one aspect of punctuation and grammar. After reading over the information and having the child do a short "worksheet" at the bottom of each page, these pages are compiled into a folder that the child can refer back to as needed throughout the unit, and for other writing assignments as well. Each Fold-n-Go assignment also includes a bookmark (pictured in side the folder) with a summary of the information learned.  Because grammar is an area where Ashlyn realizes she needs help, and is anxious to learn, she loves getting this well-laid-out, easy to reference information. I think if I turned her loose with the curriculum, she'd go through and do all the fold-n-go's immediately, she doesn't like learning things in small increments!

The next part of each lesson introduces that lesson's writing genre, with examples, discussions and games. As I suspected, from looking at the samples on the website, many of the games/activities were abit . . . juvenile for Ashlyn, so in some cases we just discussed the things the game would have taught. Ashlyn is 11, and in most areas is doing roughly 6th grade level work, however because of Level D's focus on basic grammar and punctuation in writing, I felt that was our best option in this case. Since this level is targeted at 3rd and 4th graders, I can see where the suggested games would be a fun, interactive way to teach these concepts to younger students. Some of them have been fun, and helpful, for Ashlyn as well. For example, while learning about adventure stories, we made the pictured cards and had fun making up silly stories by spinning the pencil to choose the story's location(s) and then taking turns drawing random problem, and character cards to tell our story. When we finished this activity, I suggested she file the cards, and spinner in her file box and pull them out if she ever needs some help deciding details of her stories.

Day 3 or 4 of the lesson is journaling.  This allows the child to try her hand at writing the genre without worrying about spelling, grammar, etc. The worksheet pack includes a journal prompt for each lesson, but Ashlyn has chosen to use the blank journal pages (also provided) and come up with her own ideas. Technically journaling should only take a few minutes, but one thing Ashlyn has NOT learned, is how to write something SHORT. Her journal entries are typically several pages long and sometimes takes a couple day to complete. Because she is enjoying it, I've been curbing my propensity to want to STAY ON SCHEDULE and trying to let her take as long as she wants/needs . . . 

After the journaling, it's time for brainstorming the "real" writing project for that lesson. A brainstorming page is included.

Next comes the "sloppy copy". I LOVE using this term, instead of "first draft", and it really helps my perfectionist to remember that she's "allowed" to make mistakes on this copy.

Once the sloppy copy is completed, it's time for proofreading. The recommended proof reading process begins with having the child find, and highlight, some things they did WELL! Then they get busy and use the proof reading marks they've learned, and the grammar and punctuation they're learning with the folders, to self-edit their writing. Only after the child has edited her own work, does the teacher go through and do any additional editing that's needed (so far I've had to do very little editing!).

Now it's time for the final draft. The curriculum allows for the child to just neatly make corrections on their sloppy copy OR re-write a final copy and add decorative details. Needless to say, my artist insists on making her final draft a work of art, as evidenced by her letter of invitation (to a tea party). She even managed to coordinate it with the colored stickers on that week's grammar folder!  There is one final day in each lesson that makes additional suggestions for follow-up activities. We pick and choose whether or not to do those based on time constraints, and Ashlyn's interest.
Ashlyn is LOVING this curriculum. She begs to do it, and, when she's not taking extra days because she's writing 10 times as much as she's required, she wants to know why we can't go ahead and do more than one day at a time. 

I have mixed feelings. Ashlyn's obviously happy with it, but she's a very motivated learner. I personally don't think the "fun" aspects would be sufficient to entice my reluctant writer (Lexie) to do this curriculum willingly (even if she were in the recommended age range, and certainly not now). HOWEVER, it should be noted that we are an eclectic, unschoolish family. If a child had been using a typical "school" writing program, this would be a more fun alternative. Also, as an eclectic, unschoolish family, I generally come alongside my children and we learn together. This curriculum is much more "teacher/student" oriented, which doesn't fit my teaching style (that said, it makes it easy, providing specific scripts for the teacher to read, which is helpful if you're not used to "teaching" per se). As I mentioned above, many of the activities/games weren't a good fit for Ashlyn, so I waited to see if she wanted to do them and, if so, she helped me do the prep work, however the curriculum recommends that the teacher/parent do this prep work before class. It involves lots of cutting and pasting and putting together printables that, it seemed to me, took as long, or longer to put together than the child would use them. It seemed more the type of thing that would work well in a classroom, where the teacher could make the "props" once and use them repeatedly. The Time-Saver Pack helped some with this, but not alot. I think the physical book (rather than ebook) version would be helpful, but if I were purchasing this curriculum, I wouldn't bother purchasing the ebook Time-Saver Pack. The teacher's guide gives easy-to-follow instructions for making your own "props" that are similar to those in the Time-Saver Pack, and often won't take much longer than printing out and "building" the printables. For the rest of the curriculum, you can save abit of money by buying the ebooks, and you'll save significantly, if you plan to use the curriculum with multiple children in the same family (the ebooks are licensed to print multiple copies for use withing a single family), however, if you plan to only use the workbook for one child anyway, having it all pre-printed would probably be worth the slightly higher price. For the Teacher's Guide, I'd let personal preference be your determining factor. It's non-consumable, and the price difference isn't enough that I'd think it would be worth printing the ebook rather than buying the physical book, so it just depends on whether you'd rather look at the Teacher's Guide on your computer, or in a "real" book. Because of all of our travelling, and because I tend to do my lesson planning in bits and pieces wherever I happen to be in the house, I like having it on my computer, where I can't misplace it. Others would, no doubt, prefer to have an actual book they can open and bookmark, and make notes in, and keep with the rest of their school stuff. 

Overall, if you're looking for a curriculum that's more fun than a "typical" schoolish writing curriculum, but still has a more structured feel, this would be a good bet. I also  really like the Grammar folders, I see us continuing to use them, and me encouraging her to refer back to them, long after we've completed the curriculum. They're just a great, easy-to-use reference of basic grammar and punctuation.

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1 comment:

Lisa M. (aka. Lisa @ Farm Fresh) said...

What a great review! We too ended up with a program a bit easy but like you found some great aspects of it. I enjoyed the pretty invitation she designed.