Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writing Curriculum...

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I had begun to ponder writing curriculum and what I was going to use with my oldest daughter this year.  Well, it's been interesting since then.  I had ordered 2 new Evan Moor Books and 3 used Evan Moor books.  DON'T buy Evan-Moor books used!  This was what I learned.  Amazon has made a mistake.  They show the new copy with listings for the previous edition under the used listings.  I thought I was ordering the books I saw on the preview, but I wasn't.  When the 3 used books arrived, I was very disappointed.  Rather than saving money, I found myself in the thick of a lot of trouble!  Returning an item to Amazon directly was pretty easy, but I had to drop it off at a UPS drop box.  The second return was easy, the money was simply returned when I contacted them that I had received the wrong item. The third item, on the other hand, was a pain.  I had to make a claim to Amazon about it and the seller was not good about replying to my attempts at contacting them to resolve the matter.  It was frustrating.  Thankfully, it's all done now.  But, I'm going to try and not have to do that again!

As these books arrived and the ensuing frustration took hold, I pondered if this was the right avenue to pursue.  It was a legitimate and good plan.  For some reason, I decided to look at a book I had ordered for Autumn for 2nd grade-- Write Away, published by Great Source.  I looked for a Program Guide online and found one.  It was $25 and for some reason I felt it was what I should get.  I had used the K level from the series and loved it, but knew with that level that I needed the Program Guide to make it work as a curriculum.  I had the 1st grade books from the series, but hadn't used them because I felt overwhelmed by the planning needs of the teacher's guide I had.  Still I felt I should order the second grade book, so I did.  It arrived and I loved it!  It laid out a 36 week curriculum for the year.  When I looked at the individual weeks, it was also laid out by week in daily lessons.  I realize now that when I was about to use the 1st grade level of this series, it was the lack of daily lessons that overwhelmed me.  I didn't understand the program and how to make it work for my family.  I also don't think I understood the overall writing process and how children learn how to write.  So, when we went on our vacation, I took the Grade 1 guide with me and wrote out daily lessons so that they will be done ahead of time for me for this year with Sami.

I've realized a lot of things about writing over the past month.
1) Teaching writing is daunting!  It is an enormous process to teach.  Helping your children develop strong writing skills is a challenging task.
2) Having an overall understanding of what needs to be taught at different levels and where your children are headed helps.
3) Writing requires parent/teacher involvement.  (It requires me to be more involved than I have been!) Students need feedback on their writing and instruction.
4) Find a curriculum you like and your children like--it may not be what everyone else likes or is using.  It needs to "sit with you".  You need to want to use it.  Even if everyone else likes it, you'll procrastinate and put those lessons off if you don't like the materials or if they seem overwhelming to you.

As I was pondering what curriculum to do and thinking about using the Evan Moor books, I took my writing questions to my friends.  One is 3 years ahead of me in this journey and one is 7 years ahead of me.  I found that they both agreed on points 2-4.  Point #1 is mine.  :)  They both had different approaches to teaching writing and recognized that teaching writing is a complex task.

One of my friends, who is also a former school teacher, has appreciated our church's co-op class for teaching writing.  She agreed with me that it is a complex task to teach writing.  The other friend uses the basic outline of how to teach writing from that co-op class and the curriculum is uses to continue on and teach writing to her children.  She is a natural writing teacher.  I realized she has a scope and sequence in her head of what she wants to teach them each year in writing.  I admired her ability to do this.  But, I know I'm not at that point yet, so I look to a scope and sequences to help me understand what children need to learn about writing year by year and then use that to help give me a guiding vision of where my children are heading with their writing.

I found this site that I liked:  At the very end of the page, it talks about years 1-9.  I think that is literally meaning the child's age, not grade.  By ages, what she says is very appropriate, I think.  On this page that I've linked to, you'll find a list of the types of writing, and the very end of the page is what I also think is very helpful.

After all of my thinking, I've concluded that these are the foundational ideas about how a child's writing develops:

Creative Writing   >    Writing    <  Expository Writing

Writing =   Sentences  >   Paragraphs  >  Essays and Stories

Children begin with writing sentences in Kindergarten and First Grade.  They write phonetically at first.  They realize that letters make words and words make sentences.  Grammar is introduced in First Grade: the idea of what a sentence needs--a capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end.
In Second Grade, sentences are developed and more describing words are added.  Punctuation is explained more in depth as is grammar.  Sentences are linked together and structure for a paragraph is introduced.  In Second/Third grades, the idea of a topic sentence and details are introduced.  Paragraphs are developed in Third and Fourth Grades.  These paragraphs linked together become essays or stories.  An essay is simply paragraphs linked together with the first paragraph being like a topic sentence and the body paragraphs are the details.  

Expository Writing
Connecting to Text  >  Taking Notes  >  Paragraphs  >  Research Paper

When children are in Kindergarten through second grade, they are taught how to connect to the text they are reading.  These connections are either connections to themselves and their own experiences, connections to the world and what they know about the world, or connections to another text--something they've read or seen before.  These connections help them remember and understand what they are learning about.  In Third grade, these connections become the foundation for students making predictions and identifying main ideas and details.  This is the stuffing of 2 column notes.  Those 2 column notes can then be turned into simple paragraphs. These paragraphs become the stuffing of simple and later more complex reports as children grow older.  A third grade report would simply be a one paragraph summary, while a fourth and fifth grade report may have 3 or more paragraphs.
In Fourth Grade, these connections to what they've read and seen are built upon and students learn how to identify story elements and details.  This is also the stuffing of 2 column notes that can be used to write book reports.

Taking Notes  >  Notecards /  Highlighting  >  Research Paper

In grades 4-6+, taking notes is developed further and written on notecards.  Highlighting is taught.  The main ideas are developed into the paragraphs which become essays/research papers.  In Fourth grade, of course this is on a very simple level.  More detailed research material is used and more notes are taken as students get older and grow.

The middle school and high school years develop these skills to write a variety of forms of essays and papers.  The site I linked to earlier gives a good listing of these various types.

Creative Writing
Poetry   --------   Stories

Creative Writing includes different types of stories, free writing, journal writing, and stories.  The simplest way I can understand it is to break it down into poetry and stories.  In kindergarten children draw pictures of a story's beginning, middle, and end.  They may give a verbal narration that an adult records. In first grade, they begin by writing three or more sentences telling a story's beginning, middle, and end.  As students get older, their stories become more complex each year as their sentences become more complex.  

Poetry is another form of creative writing.  Poetry can begin in first grade with simple acrostic poems, couplets, and cinquains.  Evan-Moor's Poetry With Children identifies 6 types of poems and gives a form for 3 levels (I, II, and III) that increase with difficulty.  Their second book Poetry Patterns and Themes lists more types of poetry for grades 3-6+.

Here is another way of breaking down the writing process:  
* Basically, children begin in PK and K to attempt to write.  Spelling is not an issue.  Children simply need to attempt at writing words.  As they go into first grade, they will have been fine motor skills and will begin learning to spell.  Sentences are the main focus for first grade.  Children can use words and pictures to express what they think.  But, the point is simply for them to write.  The parts of stories are introduced: beginning, middle, and end.  Simple poetry, like acrostic poems (name or alphabet poems), is also introduced.
* Second grade delves into more work in sentences and more developed sentences.  Unstructured paragraphs and stories begin to be developed.  The writing process (Plan, Write, Edit, Revise, and Publish) is introduced at a basic level.  This process can also be introduced in first grade.  Stories continue to be written and become longer.  Poetry is again introduced, but different types--like cinquains.
* In third grade, sentences are combined and become more complex.  The five sentence paragraph can be introduced:  Topic sentence, 3 details, and a conclusion.  Stories and creative writing also become more complex with added detail and description.
* Fourth grade finds students writing book reports and sometimes multiple paragraphs.  Paragraphs are developed further.  The paragraphs become essays, stories, and reports.
* From Fifth grade on students continue to develop these fundamentals.

As for curriculum, 
This is the post I wrote a few weeks ago about writing:  I reread what I wrote and though I'm going to use Write Away this year with Autumn, the Evan Moor books I ordered are still needed.  I can see how God has orchestrated all of this.  The two areas that are weak in Sami's Grade 1 curriculum for Write One  are the 2 Evan Moor books I ordered new:  Stories and Poetry.  (The teacher's guide for Write One that I have happens to have a few pages missing, which was unbeknownst to me until I started writing the plans on our trip.)

One of the difficulties with the curriculums I use is that I buy them used.  So, I can't fully recommend them, because they are often not available or still in print or available to homeschoolers directly.  I've also come to believe that I gravitate to them because I taught in a classroom before I homeschooled.  Great Source's writing curriculum is one of those things.  I think it could be a great homeschool curriculum, but I read a review on Homeschool which mentioned that Great Source is not open to working with homeschoolers.  I don't know if this is currently the case or not, but their new curriculum is not packaged in a way that is affordable to homeschooling families.  I have bought it used and so it has been affordable for us so far.  I keep my eyes open and shop for it bit by bit.

I did come across several writing curriculums available to homeschoolers that I liked and would consider if I weren't able to use the Write Source Program.

One program is Write Shop.  You can only buy it through the website here:
There are samples online so you can see a preview of the lesson plans and books.  For Grades K-2, the cost is about $30-$40 per year.  For Middle/High School, there is an initial investment of $55 for the teacher's guide and $45 each for the middle and high school student books.  So, a total cost of $145 for grades 6-12.

Another program I found that I like is Diana Hanbury King's Writing Skills series published by EPS Books.  She wrote a teacher's manual that is about $20 that explains all the concepts children need to learn in writing.  The student books cover 2-3 grade and are $15 each.  It is also a very affordable curriculum.  It integrates grammar and writing instruction.  

Writing Skills is complemented by the Just Write Program for Creative Writing, also published by EPS Books.  Together these two programs (Just Write and Writing Skills) plus Evan-Moor's poetry book would cover a full year's writing curriculum.

Many homeschoolers use Institutes for Excellence in Writing and Writing Strands.  I was overwhelmed by the IEW lesson preparation.  I was told that IEW is stronger and easier to use for older grades, not the early elementary years.  Writing Strands is very popular among homeschoolers but it falls in my category of not being appealing to me.  I have picked it up several times over the years at the homeschool book store, but have always set it down.  Much of that may have been because I needed an understanding of the process of teaching writing though.  I just looked up the books to take a gander and remember my thoughts.  Primarily, I think it was the formatting of the books, in addition to my need for an understanding of the process of developing a child's ability to write.  Formatting is a very personal matter but I find that some books are easier for me to read and others harder simply due to the font that is chosen and the way bold type, underlining, and color are used.

So, those are my thoughts and what I've been learning about teaching my children to write.  I am excited for this year and though teaching writing is going to require more from me from now on, I know that it is needed!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What words..