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Tuesday, June 9

TWSS & Bible Heroes Review

IEW Review
The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has revised one of their best-selling courses, and it's better than ever!!  Teaching Writing, Structure, and Style (TWSS) is a comprehensive course that helps teachers help their students to overcome issues such as: not knowing what to write, where to begin, or how to break the process down into manageable steps.  The focus is on basic structures of writing, with less emphasis on creative and expository writing.  The structure helps to provide a solid foundation for expanding to other areas of writing.  We also received Bible Heroes Writing Lessons in Structure and Style (and the accompanying Teacher Manual) to use along with TWSS.

The Curriculum
The main course is a twelve-hour teaching seminar, with an accompanying workbook, for the TEACHER (who is the student in this instance).  The seminar workbook provides notes from the seminar, as well as lots of samples and examples.  Also included is a set of four student demonstrations – an introduction writing workshop for each of four grade groupings (1st – 2nd, 3rd – 5th, 6th – 8th, and 9th – 12th).  The course focuses on the following topics :  note-taking, writing from notes, retelling stories, summarizing, writing from pictures, creative writing, essay writing, critiquing, and writing about literature.

When you purchase the newest edition of the completecourse, you also receive free access to a number of extra resources.  The Blackline Masters e-book has 240 reproducible pages, primarily to be used by students.  Here is where you will find stories and pictures to be used as writing source material, as well as checklists, outline forms, and other resources that you need to teach the course.  You are given permission to reproduce these for your family or classroom.

The course also includes a premium subscription, which gives you one year access to the complete series of video lessons streamed to your computer or tablet, plus downloadable audio talks, access to monthly webinar training, a recommended reading list, mini-posters, mini-books, and pictures. I recommend that you purchase the course with DVDs since I expect that many parents are likely to want to revisit the video lessons and the student demonstrations beyond the first year.  Theoretically, once you have watched all of the videos, the manual should be sufficient to help you teach the lessons, but you may want to revisit the DVDs.

The writing instruction methods in this course can be used to teach students from first grade on up to high school, and over a succession of years.  The units stay the same, but you expect continued improvement from the student as you gradually expand the skills.  The program also addresses common problems among writing teachers, including: overcorrecting, not giving enough help, unclear assignments, and over-expectation.

My Experience
I would not recommend trying to sit down in a weekend to watch the entire DVD course…you will end up a zombie.  In fact, one of the biggest downsides to TWSS was that I had no prior knowledge of their system, and had to watch the course first.  I don’t know of any mom that has twelve free hours to devote to taking an impromptu writing seminar.  This was incredibly discouraging, and I attempted to use Bible Heroes with my son before completing the course, only to find us both very confused!  After speaking with a few members of our local co-op, who are avid IEW users, it became very clear that the DVD course is the crux of their products, and was an integral piece of the Bible Heroes curriculum.  So, I went back to square one and started watching them.  Just as they said would happen, the coursework from Bible Heroes made sense once I had the TWSS background from the videos.  However, for the time being, I still count the sheer amount of time invested as a negative.
That said, one of the reason that these videos are so long is because the lessons move along slowly enough for you to think and work through the process.  This means that you are more likely to end up with a solid grasp of the course content, especially if you complete the writing assignments as you watch the seminar lessons.  (In the spirit of disclosure, I only did this once.)
IEW ReviewIEW Review
Bibles Heroes & TWSS
Bible Heroes Writing Lessons in Structure and Style (and the accompanying Teacher Manual) is a great program for implementing the concepts of IEW’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style DVD Seminar (TWSS) with younger students.  Although the target audience for Bible Heroes is 1st-2nd grade, the material can be adapted for up to 5th grade.  Lessons are multi-sensory, and include verbal and written activities, as well as games for reinforcement.  All source material is taken from the Bible.  Bible Heroes has twenty-seven lessons, and each lesson took about a week to complete.  Lessons are grouped into seven units, covering key word outlining, writing from key word outlines, summarizing narrative stories, summarizing references (report writing), writing from pictures, and creative writing.

Teachers need to either be familiar with TWSS, or be working through the seminar, as they teach this course. The Bible Heroes teacher’s manual tells you when you need to be familiar with a particular lesson in TWSS in preparation for teaching a lesson.  This is so crucial – I was very confused as we started this program…but a fellow local co-op member set me straight on the necessity of watching the twelve to fifteen hours of teacher instruction.  As my time is limited, I would call this the biggest ‘negative’ of the entire program.  But, it’s true, without watching this information, you WILL be lost.
The Curriculum
Bibles Heroes comes with access to two free downloads from the IEW website. One download is the Student Resource Notebook (also available for purchase in hard copy format).  It provides supplementary and reference material needed by the student.  The other download is the Bible Heroes Teacher’s E-book.  The teacher’s guide is essential. It explains how to teach the course, and it has suggested schedules, answers to review questions, examples of possible key word outlines and brainstorming, game and activity instructions, reproducible game and checklist pages, and an appendix about “reward tickets” that you might use instead of grading. 
The consumable Student Book provides instructions which are to be read to the student, additional notes to the teacher, and space for students to complete lessons and writing assignments.  Appendices include: style helps, game pieces (cardstock), and vocabulary cards (cardstock).  Your student will also need a three-ring binder equipped with clear sheet protectors to keep completed stories.

At the end of the second lesson, the “checklist” is introduced.  Simple checklists are included in the student book so they can double check that they have paid attention to important elements in their paragraph.  Checklists vary depending upon the assignment.  Printable pages with the checklists are also in an appendix at the back of the teacher’s manual.

Almost every lesson includes a game, and there are vocabulary games in an appendix in the teacher’s manual that can be used at any time.  At the back of the student book are 56 pages of cards and images for games and activities, all printed on card stock.  Game components are all included, with the exception of a die.  Most of the games can be played with only one child, but there are a few games that just won’t work well without two or more children.

Our Experience
Each lesson features a different Bible hero and stories that stress positive character traits.  The biblical content shows up in most lesson activities.  The first session of each lesson begins with a very brief review followed by the introduction of the Bible verse, Bible hero, and a virtue.  We read through the Bible story and worked on a key word outline to help narrate the story orally.  On the second day of the lesson, he dictated a paragraph from his outline and began working on lesson activities in the student book.  For the rest of the week, he worked on paragraph revision until we reached a final product that he was proud to show his Daddy!
My 2nd grader has dyslexia and an auditory processing disorder, but the IEW program worked well for him.  He enjoyed writing about Bible characters, and the IEW method of imitating good writing gave him success and boosted self-confidence in his writing abilities. 

Overall, I think that this is a solid program that is great for the traditional homeschool family.  It was a little structured for my taste, and at times I felt like the expectations were unrealistically high – even though that issue is specifically addressed.  It takes quite a bit of time to get the background for their system of teaching writing, but it seems to provide a strong foundation for both the homeschool and classroom setting.  I know of many families that swear by this system, and I am planning to investigate it further and continue using the methods with the kids.  After all, whether we’re talking about math facts, writing skills, or character, you can’t go wrong with a solid foundation!

Pros :
·                     Includes grammar skills and stylistic approaches in the lessons
·                     Spans first grade through high school – long term use
Cons :
·                     Takes a lot of time to watch the initial videos  

    • (Comment from a long-time TWSS user :  The way most are set up is that you don't have to watch all of the TWSS before starting on the themed writings.  Usually for example you can watch just the first two hour seminar then work on that aspect of the themed writing for a week or two, then watch the next section of the seminar and work on that section and so on.  While some people may want to watch the entire seminar before teaching and it may make more sense to some people to use it that way, it doesn't have to be done that way.)
·                     Very structured for our taste (which would be a ‘pro’ for many families)

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