Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Homeschool Vendors: Institute for Excellence in Writing

I kind of missed doing this yesterday.  With dentist appointments and other errands, it was just a busy, busy day.

So, today, I want to talk about why IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing) makes my list of favorite homeschool companies.

I was first truly introduced to IEW when I signed up to attend a mom's "class" using Teaching the Classics.  IEW doesn't produce this product, but they do sell it.  I left that six week "class" convinced that yes, even I could tackle literature analysis.  I also left feeling warm fuzzy thoughts about IEW in general.

Teaching the Classics (I later purchased the DVDs so I could watch them with my kids) is about teaching the teacher how to teach.  Literature, in this case.  Adam Andrews is funny, obviously knowledgeable, and he makes me feel like I can do this.  I left my class with a notebook, which was adequate for implementing the ideas I had learned.  But I did find that I really wanted access to seeing it again, which is why I picked up the DVDs three years later.  On my wishlist is the Worldview Supplement for Teaching the Classics, which I'm sure will also be excellent.

A few months after that class -- in fact, the day before Trina was born -- I made my first "real" purchase of IEW materials.  I purchased Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization.  Lengthy title.  Fabulous program.  I debated it, as it seemed so expensive.  But reading through the intro material on my hospital bed (!) and then watching the DVD at home... well, I was convinced that this was worth every penny.

And it has been.  So let's address cost here.  On the one hand, IEW makes and sells expensive stuff.  The Poetry Memorization program is $65.  But it is totally non-consumable, and it is meant to be used over a few years.  There are four levels in this program, which could correspond to four years of work.  So... for $65, I have four years of EASY TO IMPLEMENT poetry memorization work for each of my five kids.  That's $3.25 per year.  And I could sell it when we're done and get back a big chunk of what I put into it.

That doesn't even factor in the "teacher training" provided.  The DVD is fantastic.  Nurturing Competent Communicators.  Isn't that a great title?  It goes through a whole lot of great stuff... why read aloud?  Why memorize poetry?  I'm thrilled to own this.

Then there is the ease of use.  IEW has chosen 19 poems per level, and they are a great mix of poems I would have chosen (you know, when I find a couple of weeks to do nothing but comb poetry books and create my own program) and poems I never would have picked to memorize.  A combination of short ones and long ones.  A mix of serious and funny.  And all of them are recorded.  So poetry memorization is simply a matter of listening to the CD regularly (daily!)  Yes.  It really is that easy.

And what is fun is that even my two year old (who is now six) was memorizing the poems.  And he still knows them.  All for $13 per student for my five kids.

The next part of IEW I discovered was their mp3s.  I was able to see Andrew Pudewa at a homeschool conference, and I totally fell in love.  Pudewa "gets" boys (and I have four of them).  He gets reluctant learners (got some of them too).  He gets gifted kids.  I started collecting his talks, and I'm pretty sure I've never been disappointed in a single one.  Every time I listen to him, I am re-inspired and totally motivated.  Talks I own:
  • Nurturing Competent Communicators -- have this on mp3 and DVD.  He makes a case for reading aloud and memorization, as a means of putting sophisticated language patterns into kids' heads.
  • Reaching Reluctant Writers -- oh, yeah, awesome talk
  • Teaching and Evaluating Writing
  • The Four Language Arts
  • Humor and Other Motivators in Teaching
  • Developing the Essayist
  • Four Deadly Errors
  • ...and more
You can listen to some of these for free, and IEW is currently doing a 12 Days of Christmas promotion where today they are giving away the mp3 of The Four Language Arts.

It was only after all of this that I was finally truly introduced to their writing materials.  I was able to borrow Teaching Writing: Structure and Style from a friend. I watched it, was totally sold on the IEW methodology, and I purchased a theme writing unit -- Ancient History.

I found that more difficult to do than I expected.  Partially, because I keep having products to review that distract me.  But moreso, I think, because I really needed to watch TWSS again and absorb the information more completely.  I'm sure people who "get" writing (not like me!) would do better with these though.

Last summer, I found an awesome price on a used Student Writing Intensive set (Level B, for 6-8th graders) and we started working through that.  Oh, how incredibly easy!  But then review products came up and we dropped the ball.  Again. 

Just a month or so ago, I was totally blessed to be chosen to review TWSS and the SWI Level C (high school).  I've been working my way through TWSS again, and it makes so much more sense on a second viewing.  I'm totally understanding where I was derailed with the theme schedule.  And Level C is a better place for Connor to be working, so I think we are less likely to get derailed in the first place.  Plus, now it is a review product, so we HAVE to keep on track.  (Watch for my review in May!)

For William and Thomas, who are going to be studying the middle ages in our new school year, I am seriously looking at purchasing the Medieval History theme-based set. Something that ties into their history is going to be easier for me to implement now.

We are also going to be starting Fix-It Grammar in January.  I'm having Connor, William and Thomas work through the first "year" of the program, even though Connor probably should be starting with a later level.  I know my limitations, and I know I need to do something that all three can handle.  (Note: because of questions, I followed up with more info on this here.)

Overall, what I love about IEW is that the materials tend to work for a variety of ages, and they focus so much on teaching ME.  They reinforce a lot of the things I believe about education -- reading aloud is critically important, and learning to communicate is incredibly valuable, to name two.

Their materials hold their value incredibly well, so if you use something and won't need to do it again, you can sell it for a huge percentage of what you paid for it.  That says two things to me... first, the fact that the materials are that in demand speaks volumes about their quality.  Second, when you can resell it (after using it) for 80% of what you paid, the total investment drops dramatically, making IEW even more affordable.

Edited to add:  I didn't even get into my kids' reactions to IEW.  They absolutely adore Andrew Pudewa.  For a long time, he was known as "The Ooey Gooey Guy" (the first poem in level one, which Andrew reads on the CD, starts... "Ooey Gooey was a worm, a mighty worm was he...") though now they think of him as the funny writing dude.  When I listen to one of his mp3s, I inevitably will hear someone say, "I hear a familiar voice," and I get a request to turn up the volume. 

The kids are more than willing to listen to what he says and make their dad watch their favorite parts of the writing DVDs.  I never get complaints about "having" to watch an IEW DVD, and I usually don't get complaints about doing the assignments either.

I want one of everything. 


Tristan said...

I love IEW too and I love your point about the cost for families with more than one or two kids. I know that with 6 kids here so far one of the wisest investments I can make in our homeschooling are multilevel and reuseable materials. Love love love it!

And Andrew is a great speaker - it's probably time I relisten to a few of my MP3s, off to load them on the iPod.

Lauren in GA said...

Have you ever looked at The Elegant Essay or Windows to the World that they sell? Lesha Myers is the author, but IEW sells it.

Debra said...

Lauren -- I have looked at them, and am planning for them. But we aren't there yet... there were other things I wanted to mention in this post too, but I thought I should stick to what I actually have SOME experience with :)

Connor & I are trying to map out what he is going to do for language arts for the next 4.5 years... and, umm, almost all of it is either an IEW product, or goes along with an IEW product (Excellence in Literature, for instance... didn't mention it here either, as we've only worked with a product that IEW doesn't sell...)

Michelle Smith said...

Debra, I have looked at the Poetry Memorization repeatedly and kept thinking we couldn't afford it and have put off buying it. I think you've now convinced me to buy it! ;)

Jen's Busy Days said...

Debra, when you say reading aloud do you mean the kids reading aloud to us or us reading aloud to them? I like that you have said that you are going to use Fix-It Grammar with several kids at once. What age ranges are the 3 you mentioned? I will be watching for a review on how that goes.

Jen in Oz
(who seems to have about a 4 year delay in using what you use, right back from SLPreK days)

Debra said...

Jen - on the read-aloud, the answer is YES. LOL! Mostly he talks about us reading to them, but he does also talk about them reading to us. What used to be known as elocution.

When I started shooting for two hours a day of family read-aloud time (I fall short lately though!) it was partially based on an Andrew Pudewa talk.

As for Fix-It Grammar, well, I'm going to create a separate post. Because this got too long.

Debra said...

Michelle -- I think the poetry memorization is worth every penny. Before we started it, I was committed to memorizing poetry. We spent the 8 months or so before I bought it working on memorizing some Robert Louis Stevenson that year. We memorized, oh, five poems maybe. Which is great, but my *plan* was a new poem every 1-2 weeks, depending on length. It took way too much out of me.

Having the audio, and having stuff already chosen... it made all the difference in the world.

Debra said...

Tristan -- thought I commented to you earlier! I've been relistening to all my Pudewa mp3s here lately. :) And honestly, with the resale value, I think IEW is a deal even with 1-2 kids. At least if the 2 kids are close enough together.

Tristan said...

Good point Debra - everything IEW sells has a great resale value, so it does work even with just one child who will use it and then resell.

Julie said...

Thanks for your kind words, Debra!

Had to share the love: