Friday, August 3, 2012

Crew Review: Create Better Writers

I have to admit that my attempts to teach writing to Ben have not been horribly successful enjoyable. I’m afraid I’ve scared him – or scarred him – from writing.  During our annual reviews, my reviewer assures me that he’s doing grade level work, but I’m afraid she doesn’t know about the tears and  frustration (on both our parts) which precipitated the finished product.

I’ve eagerly volunteered to review nearly every writing program that has approached our Schoolhouse Review Crew – I’m willing to look at anything that will make writing a little easier for Ben and will ease Luke into the writing process.  So let me introduce Create Better Writers

They offer a number of home school curriculum to help decrease tears and fears of writing and increase success.                                                                      

The creator of this program is a school teacher who was searching for The Perfect Writing  Program for his middle school students.  Unable to find it, he decided to create his own program.  You can read his interesting bio at the Create Better Writers site. 

For this review, I received:

How to Write a Paragraph, $7.99 (eBook only).

 

How To Teach the Five Paragraph Essay sells for $17.95 (e-book only)

and

Home School Writing Action Plan (e-book $15.95)

You can get these products in sets, which definitely decreases the price.  Please look at the online store!

Let’s look at the Home School Writing Action Plan first.  From the book:

“What is the goal of this program?
This program is designed to solve three major problems for the
home school parent:
1. To eliminate the need to spend a fortune on various
writing curriculums.
2. To make is easy to teach several different students in
multiple grade levels using just one writing curriculum.
3. To provide a blueprint for successful writing so that teaching it is no longer a
difficult task. Unlike many home school language arts programs, this program
offers a clear systematic approach for writing instruction. This book will be your
blueprint for successful writing.”

The Homes School Writing Action Plan gives you an overview of how David Dye’s system works.  The 54-page e-book guides you through his writing program, which starts with How to Write a Paragraph.  You can begin his program in 3rd or 4th grade, but he also has suggestions on how to begin in 6th grade or even high school.  Here’s the table of contents for the Action Plan:

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The e-book is divided into three parts.  The Summary is convenient for those of us who want to see the Big Picture first.  The Pacing guide gives suggestions on how much time to spend on each step in the program.  He makes suggestions on what to accomplish for the first semester and second semesters at each grade level, depending on if you start at 3rd grade, 6th grade, or 9th grade.  In it, he points you to his writing program.  The Road Map gives you implementation suggestions for each step along the way, and suggests writing prompts across the curriculum. 

I think one of the strengths of this program is that you can use this methodology with any curriculum you are using. It is easy to integrate this techniques of this program into any content area you are learning about – science, history, geography, creative writing, you name it! And, when you purchase this program, you are purchasing a tool that will help you teach writing to all your students – even teaching different grade levels at the same time. 

Here is a sample from one of Mr. Dye’s seminars he taught to give you an idea of how he teaches writing a paragraph:

 

{I love his analogy with painting a house. Boy, is he right! We’ve had a couple painting projects where we needed a nap after the prep was done.}

My recommendations & thoughts:

I started using How to Teach the Paragraph in July with my rising 4th grader.  It really made sense to me, especially with him just starting out with writing.  We’ve done several paragraph writing exercises to summarize our history or science readings.  Luke and I have used writing webs before to brainstorm content for the paragraph, but we’ve never  talked about the main idea and topic sentence of a paragraph.  Since Luke needs to engage visual strategies to help him learn best, I appreciated how Mr. Dye incorporates some create visual cues and reminders to help students learn the parts of a paragraph:

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Using the Home School Lesson Plan, I also went ahead and adapted this for Ben because paragraphs are still hard for Ben.  He is a kid with a lot to say, but he just hates putting it down on paper (he’s been known to sit for a whole morning staring at a blank page).  He needs guides and boundaries to bring out his best writing.   After our lesson, he said the Mr. Dye didn’t really incorporate anything new that he didn’t know about writing paragraphs from other programs we’ve used. 

Mr. Dye uses (what I would consider) traditional writing prompts to help his students practice the steps of his program.  For example, he suggests giving kids broad topics and having them write down one main idea, and then practice writing a topic sentence for a paragraph.  Ben does not like these sort of prompts at. all.  He finds them a waste of time.  However, had we been in the middle of a school topic (we’ll have lots of great topics to write about in the fall),  I think Ben would’ve been more receptive to this sort of practice exercise.

One thing to note:  This isn’t a lesson plan….it is a guide which takes you incrementally through his program to help you teach your children how to write.  If you are looking for a day-by-day lesson plan, you will be disappointed.  Personally, I do not consider this a strike against the program – I just want you to be aware of what you are considering.

Would I consider purchasing this product to help teach writing?  Yes, I would.  I appreciate that Mr. Dye has incorporated some unique visual strategies to help visual learners understand the basic elements of a paragraph.  I know it will be very helpful to Luke as we learn this year.  I will definitely use his strategies as I try to be more intentional about integrating writing into our content subjects and as we practice writing paragraph summaries of history and science topics.

I’d encourage you to visit the rest of the Schoolhouse Crew (click link below) to read what they thought:

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Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received the three products mentioned above, at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.

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