Friday, April 22, 2016

A User-Friendly All-in-One Writing Program

Note:  This post contains affiliate links to a well-liked educational products provider of ours: Apologia Educational Ministries and their new program Writers in Residence.

I am always looking for ways to ignite and improve my oldest child's writing skills, so when an opportunity came up to review Writers in Residence by Apologia Educational Ministries, I took it.  I was excited to try out this new homeschool writing program by the well-lauded curriculum provider of homeschool science programs and more. 

I know the quality of
Apologia Educational Ministries is always top-notch and thought that the new Writers in Residence program might be a perfect solution for getting my son into stronger writing habits through independent work that I could easily evaluate.  The idea of having an all-in-one workbook and text appealed to me as it would allow my son to take his learning to his bedroom, our living room, our kitchen table, the front yard, or on the road, quite easily.  Further, I hoped hat as my son's writing skills improved through Writers in Residence, his desire to use them would.  For, to be honest, my son tends not to relish anything until it becomes easy for him. 

For example, my son "hated" reading just two years ago.  However, now that he's gotten a better command of reading skills, I find that I sometimes have to say crazy things such as, "Son, please take your nose out of that book as you cross the road.  You need to be aware of cars!"  Now, I dare say, with the help of materials like
Writers in Residence I might just find myself saying similar things to my oldest son about putting down his pencil or stopping the clicking of a keyboard.  It hasn't happened yet, but the seeds are being planted and I look forward to the harvest, because my child has so many stories and ideas in his head that he's always telling me about, and I cannot wait until he can happily capture them on paper or computer.  I truly think the curriculum Debra Bell has put together in
Writers in Residence will get my son closer to doing just that.

What is Writers in Residence?

Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

Writers in Residence, a homeschool writing curriculum aimed at children in grades 4-8, is a slim 144-page answer key paired with a very large, spiral bound, worktext. 

Seriously, I was surprised when I lifted the 576-page Volume 1 workbook-textbook combo out of its packaging for the first time and saw just how big it was.  I think my son was equally surprised, but, luckily, found in paging through the book, that it was visually appealing and, thus, non-threatening.  In fact, he was delighted to see the first interview in the book was one with Bill Myers, who directed, Adventures in Odyssey, a radio series all my children enjoy and was equally impressed that he knew the book used as a model in Unit 1, When I was Young and in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant since we had just read and "studied" it together with his siblings over the past year.

With such familiar people and text to draw my son in, he agreed the large text based on a subject he is not too keen on (writing), may not be as ominous as it first appeared.  He even agreed that it could be helpful as I paged through pointing out:

  • more excerpts from children's books (since he loves children's books as much as me)
  • interviews with professional Christian writers (because he may not love to write, but he does love to tell stories)
  • integrated exercises in grammar, punctuation, and capitalization (because he'd rather those than the tediousness of a separate grammar program right now)
  • high-interest writing assignments that spring from the student's experiences and imagination (because, of course, at ten, everything revolves around self, right?)
  • an engaging, lively tone to the teaching text portions of the worktext (which actually makes reading the text to himself easy and makes it pleasant for me to read with him, which we do sometimes)
  • plenty of space to write in in the workbook portions of it (which is important, because nothing is more aggravating than having to squeeze ideas into too-large spaces!)

A quick look at the answer key, then, showed us:

  • directions
  • checklists
  • evaluations
  • rubrics
  • suggested daily schedules

and, of course, answers to the portions of the worktext that have specific answers.
Yes, with a look-through Writers in Residence, we realized that the worktext might be physically hefty, but it is light on its users, since it provides just enough challenge and interest to help students develop six traits of effective writing without weighing them down with overwhelm while also providing parent-educators with easy ways to help children evaluate writing without typical grades.

As my son has been using
Writers in Residence and I have been reading more of it, I have come to appreciate how it is designed in an engaging, step-by-step way that allows students to work independently, with some mentorship from parent educators and some from the worktext itself (which, as I listed above, includes excerpts from well-known children's books as well as interviews with professional Christian authors.)

How We Used It

There is a schedule in
Writers in Residence for a four day a week course, and it is recommended that the curriculum be used at least three days a week for greatest effectiveness.  Thus, my son and I kicked off his usage of the materials with that in mind.  Doing so, however, proved less than ideal for my writing-reluctant son and our so-often-on-the-go homeschool season.  For while the all-in-one book has been portable when we're on the go, the length of lessons as scheduled, do not always work for my son. 

Honestly, lessons as scheduled in the worktext are not that long or difficult.  However, my son's attention and ability to persist just happens to be on the shorter side for children his age.  So, I split the difference between my commitment to honoring the "at least three times a week" suggested protocol for using the program and my son's desire not to have to finish each assignment every time he sat down.  How?  I did what I so often do with my ADHD boy:  I used a timer.  

Basically, I asked my son to focus for 15 minutes only each time he sat down with
Writers in Residence and that worked well.  Sometimes, he dragged.  Sometimes he sped.  Sometimes he asked for my help, or we did a bit together.  More often than not, though, my son worked on his own, and, when I checked in what he accomplished, I discovered that if I overlooked his spelling, (which, obviously has a long way yet to go!), he actually was doing pretty well.  In fact, since beginning to use Writers in Residence, my son has been building a better habit in regular writing through brief but pointed lessons, and, in doing so, he has been able to move forward with skills. For that, I am grateful!

So far there is nothing I do not like about
Writers in Residence except one thing: it's weight.  Because we are a family that tend to take our studies to different rooms, our minivan, appointments, outings, etc., I love that Writers in Residence is all-in-one, but I almost wish it were a series of all-in-one worktexts instead of one big one.  Having each unit as a separate spiral bound booklet would make using the curriculum that much easier for us, leaving more room, and less weight, in our carry bags.

That said, even as one big worktext,
Writers in Residence works.  It is an effective, well-written program that can get reluctant writers like mine - as well as those who love to write, I imagine - putting pen to paper, exercising writing skills and building a unique written voice, confidence in self-expression, and, perhaps, even joy in building a personal writing portfolio.If you are looking for a quality writing program in a physical format, Writers in Residence could be it!  You can get a FREE SAMPLE of the program if you want to see if it would, indeed, be a positive fit for your child.

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Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

Read what 95 families thought of Writers in Residence.

Apologia: Writers in Residence Review
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