Review: Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries

apologia-logo.jpg_zpswpuj9gxgOur family has recently been given the opportunity to review a brand new writing program called Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.  We’ve had the opportunity to experience a variety of writing programs over the years and we’ve loved various elements of pretty much all of them.  However, teaching writing to children seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of homeschooling.  I am grateful for the opportunity to present a new program to you.  Perhaps it is the perfect fit for your family.

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Writers in Residence is a program for 4th-8th graders that uses examples from wonderful high-quality literature as a model for children.  Sprinkled throughout the pages of the large, spiral-bound student text and workbook combination you will find interviews of Christian authors that your family is likely already familiar with.

How It Works

This program tackles grammar along with the writing.  In the first volume of the program you will find six different units.  These units cover writing short stories, narratives, opinion pieces, autobiographies and more.  I am impressed by the wide variety of writing presented here.  It seems other programs cover creative writing and nonfiction reports and not much else.

Within the units the children refer to examples of writing from experts, the learn vocabulary, they use graphic organizers, and they refer to student samples as well.   Each unit is broken down into something called a module.  Modules are much like chapters.  Debra Bell, the creator of this program, has laid out a fabulous day by day lesson plan. Her plans break the program down into four lessons per week for 32 weeks. Her plan generally has children taking two days to complete a module.

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This program is generally based on the Six Traits Writing Model which is a program developed in the late 70’s and early 80’s based on research done by with writing teachers and college professors.  They discovered 6 distinct traits that are used to teach and assess student writing.

These six traits are:

  • ideas
  • organization
  • sentence structure
  • word choice
  • voice
  • conventions

There is a rubric for parents to use to evaluate final drafts of writing.  Can I tell you how much I LOVE that!  It just takes the guess work out and gives my child and I something objective to measure the writing by.

This program takes a child systematically through the writing process and I love that it teaches children that this process isn’t always one-directional, that sometimes we have to go back and forth between the steps.  The steps as they are laid out here include:

  1. Planning
  2. Drafting
  3. Revising
  4. Editing
  5. Polishing

Also included is an answer key which is much smaller than the large student text.  It provides the answers (or give samples of) all of the student text assignment.  Here you will find the rubric and an explanation for its use that will help you evaluate your child’s writing.

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How We Used It And What We Thought

I’ve been using this program with my oldest son Noah who is 10.  Before we began the program he read a letter from the author of the program, Debra Bell, that is located in the front of the big Student Text/Workbook.  I think this letter gave him a new appreciation for the reason we need to learn to write.  In the letter Debra writes about how language is a gift from God and we need to learn to use those gifts to glorify Him. She says it helps us demonstrate our creativity which reflects God’s creativity.  She also includes her own email address so students can write to her, send her questions, or even their own writing.  What a person touch this letter is.

My Noah loves to write… in his own way.  Long, drawn out, imaginative stores with no punctuation, grammar, spelling, beginning, middle, or end!  Reining him in to write in a way that is interesting to the reader is a challenge.  He just doesn’t like to be told how to write!

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However, the lessons in this program are relatively short.  We were usually done in just 30 minutes a day. The schedule is useful not only for my own planning purposes but it also helps my son see ahead of time exactly what is expected of him. The four day a week schedule is amazing as we usually have at least one day per week that sends us away from our “at home schoolwork” as I call it.

The lessons are fun, light hearted, and easy.  Now when I say easy I don’t mean easy as in… this has no value.  I mean easy as in… what we are learning is so clearly demonstrated that the assignment comes with ease. The lessons also vary quite a bit day to day.  We’ve used other programs with something of a daily formula.  While I appreciate consistency sometimes my kids find it… BORING.  This program is not boring. My son looks forward to seeing what new thing he’ll do that day.  This program is full of amazing writing samples, research activities, kinesthetic exercises and more.

One of the most amazing things about this program is that it includes language arts lessons right within the pages.  For example, on of the first exercises has children writing about a favorite memory.  As the lessons move on they refer back to this first piece of writing to make changes as they learn about weak and vigorous verbs, nouns (common, proper), etc.  By the time these lessons were applied the first writing my son had created quite the polished, and focused piece of writing.  We were all quite proud.

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My only criticism about this program is that the student text is HUGE!  This has some pros.  Everything is located in one place which is awesome.  I have too many curriculums that make us switch from this to that book and back again.  Plus this thing certainly isn’t going to get lost. However, it takes up a hunk of space in the drawer and when we take school on the road it is usually left behind since no one wants it weighing them down in their backpack.  Plus, if I want to use this program with more than one child I’ve got to buy THE ENTIRE thing again which is pricey.  Most other programs allow you to purchase just the consumable portion.  No such option exists with this program.

OVERALL

My son and I love this program.  This will be our writing program for the next year.  Apologia Educational Ministries says they will be releasing more volumes of this program as time goes on.  We are very much looking forward to that.

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