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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Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

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Review: IEW Fix It Grammar Book 1

Fix It! Grammar Review
I think the number one question I hear from homeschool moms in my homeschooling circles is… “What do you use for grammar?”  I think solid, yet enjoyable grammar programs are difficult to find.  My family certainly didn’t have one. We were piecing together bits and pieces from here, there, and everywhere.  When I had the chance to review Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Teacher Manual) and Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Student Book) by Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) I was pretty excited! We already use IEW’s writing programs and they have done such great things in our homeschool.  I was hopeful the grammar program would as well.

Fix It! Grammar Review
Fix It Grammar is a six book series.  Each book is intended to provide a whole years of grammar instruction spread over 33 weeks.  You’ll find daily passages to review and over 100 vocabulary words to discover.  The program takes advantage of repetition to really solidify grammar rules through editing practice.  For each level you’ll find a teacher’s manual and a student book.

How Does It Work?

The glory of this program is just how simple it is.  It takes as little as 15 minutes per day.  That’s it!  My children always marveled when we finished a lesson.  They seemed to not believe me when I explained that this was all we had to do in grammar today.  At each lesson you’ll open your teacher’s manual and the students will open their student book to the appropriate week and day. You’ll read one sentence and seek out any errors such as missing end marks.   You’ll spend a moment reviewing any concepts that your child might need a reminder for (example: What was a noun again?) and then you’ll search out that concept and mark in in the sentence.  Finally you’ll take the provided vocabulary word and find it’s definition in a dictionary and summarize it in writing.

That is it!  Done!  One sentence, one definition, and life moves on.  Isn’t that glorious? Every sentence builds on the sentence before it.  By the end of the year you’ll have edited a complete story as well as studied all of the vocabulary words associated with it while learning grammar concepts and practicing handwriting.

The teacher’s manual is excellent and thorough and a must have.  It contains everything you need to get through the program including a code that will get you a PDF version of the student book that you can use with all of your children.  The student book is spiral bound and absolutely handy if you are like me and would prefer to not have to mess with printing things out.  There is such a great ease in asking children to just turn ahead to the next sentence without any fuss.

Fix It! Grammar Review

 

 

What We Thought Of Fix It Grammar!

We loved it!  Absolutely positively we adore this program and it will become a permanent staple in our curriculum lineup.  My children have NEVER asked to do grammar lessons before.  They were actually disappointed when a lesson ended and begged to do another sentence.

The whole experience is so fast and low key, no pressure!  But just as important, they LEARNED!  Just for fun when we’d cuddle up to read aloud picture books (we love picture books, we pretend they are just for my preschooler but we all know ALL of children adore them and get so much from them) my boys would say.. “Hey, I see 3 nouns in this sentence!”  Or after writing something for another subject they’d stop themselves and remember endmarks… get this… ALL ON THEIR OWN!

This program is just such a no brainer.  It takes little effort from me as the teacher to teach a lesson.  There is no preparation needed.  No one needs to jump through hoops! I don’t have to drag out 100 different manipulatives.  Oh! I almost forgot, there are flash cards in the student book that you can cut out help remember the grammar rules. They are printed on sturdy cardstock. I keep these handy and we flip through them at the start of lesson for refreshment.  The children love it!  I love it!  We are learning rules and parts of speech and we are applying them.  They are learning!  How much better does it get?

Purchase Price?

Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Teacher Manual) $19.00

Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Book 1] (Student Book) $15.o0

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Review: Essentials: Logic of English Complete Set and Phonics with Phonograms App

Logic of English Review
For the past several weeks my family had the opportunity to review Essentials: Logic of English Complete Set by Logic of English.  The Essentials program from Logic of English is designed to help you teach your children reading, spelling, and writing. The program is designed for children ages 7 through adults.  It was designed with the intent that even struggling students, those with Dyslexia, ESL students or even those who simply struggle with reading and spelling) could excel.   It truly is a systematic phonics program.  To accompany the Essentials program we also received the Phonics with Phonograms App for the iPad or iPhone as well. I’ll discuss the app further on down below.

Logic of English Review

About Essentials: Logic of English

For our review we received the Essentials: Logic of English Complete Set which sells for $243 and comes with:

  • Essentials Teacher’s Manual
  • Essentials Student Workbook(s) in Cursive or Manuscript
  • Spelling Journal
  • Basic Phonogram Flashcards
  • Advanced Phonogram Flash Cards
  • Spelling Rule Flashcards
  • Grammar Rule Flashcards
  • Phonogram & Spelling Rule Quick Reference Chart
  • Phonogram & Spelling Game Book
  • 2 sets of Game Cards

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The Essentials Teacher’s Manual ($95) is a sturdy hardcover book that should last you through years of use and several children.  In total you will find 40 scripted, organized and detailed lessons. The lessons contain 3 parts  including learning phonograms, spelling, and grammar.

The Essentials Student Workbook in Cursive or Manuscript($25) is a softback book that contains the consumable workbook type pages that the children use every day.  The ages are perforated for easy removal from the large workbook.  We store them in a separate folder.

The Basic Phonogram Flashcards ($18) are pretty integral to the program.  Remembering the many phonograms makes reading and spelling that much easier.

All of the many flashcards that complete the program come on sturdy shiny cardstock.  They are color coded making them easy to identify quickly.  I chose to keep the cards we were currently using in a coupon file folder and while the cards we haven’t gotten to just yet are rubber banded in a basket near by.

How We Used Essentials: Logic of English

At a first glance the program can look overwhelming.  I carried the teacher’s manual around for a couple of days trying to wrap my brain around everything.  In actuality this was probably not necessary.  Once I decided to just dive into it with my children I realized that it program is really quite simple to follow and very much just open and go.  I was looking at a very fat teacher’s manual and making things much harder than they needed to be.  The teacher’s manual is extensive long before you even begin the lessons.  There is a tremendous amount of information about how to teach the phonograms, phonemic awareness such and games that you can try.

Essentials offers you five different schedules.  These are suggested and by no means required.  You can choose from schedules for:  struggling readers and spellers, struggling spellers, emerging readers and spellers, young emerging readers, and ESL students. I used the program with my two boys who are 8 and 6.  I chose to pay attention to the struggling spellers schedule.  Both of my boys are very advanced readers, spelling however is not their strong place. The teacher’s manual suggests the total time per day for this category is 35-65 minutes.  This schedule says that one full lesson (with all three of its parts) should be completed every one to two days.  This wasn’t our experience at all.  Even the very first lesson which was a breeze for my children took us a good 2 or more hours.  As we progressed in the lessons I found we could complete a lesson a week across 4 days.  In the end I chose to open the book and just do a few activities at a time until my children seemed to be at a good stopping point and ready to move on for the day.

As I described before the lessons are broken up into three parts! The first part is all about learning the phonograms… or all of the sounds letters and letter combinations can make and when they make them.  Part one also covers exploring sounds and learning spelling rules.  In general my boys had a very good concept of all of the basic phonograms (A-Z)  so they were able to breeze through this section of the early lessons. Part Two involved spelling dictation.  This is where the spelling list is found.  I took the words and posted them in our school space and encouraged the children to find ways to use them in other places. Part Three is all about grammar.  We covered prefixes, suffixes, parts of speech and all of that fun stuff.  Every fifth lesson is a review lesson which I found highly valuable.  Spelling rules, grammar, and phonograms we went over a few weeks back came back front and center.  I’m a big believer in repetition.

My boys especially loved the games that came out of the Phonogram and Spelling Game Book.  Anything that makes our learning fun is a real plus.  Sometimes our entire lesson would consist of playing just these games.  There are quite a few optional activities peppered throughout the pages of the teacher’s manual as well.  We mostly chose to skip most of these as the teaching was thorough I didn’t feel we needed the extra practice.  However, as we cruise up in lessons I bet we’ll do more of them.

Overall What Do I Think?

Overall I think this is an excellent program and I intend to keep using it.  I have no doubt that my boys will turn out to be excellent spellers.  Actually, my spelling is going to improve as well.  On top of that, we’ve all learned more about grammar than I ever imagined.  For example, do you know what ar article adjective is?  I do now!  So do my boys.

This program appeals to the different ways in which my boys think.  There are lots of visual, auditory and even kinesthetic activities.  It certainly keeps things fun and engaging.

My biggest criticism of the program is how long you would REALLY have to spend each and every day to complete this program in a typical school year.  There is a tremendous amount to do in each and every lesson and I do believe that as my boys venture further along the lessons will take us even longer.  Even the recommended 35 minutes (minimum) per day can seem like a very long time to an active child. Some of the suggested schedules, such as the struggling readers and spellers schedule suggests students should work on the program for over TWO HOURS  a day!  Chances are if you have a struggling reader and speller they aren’t going have what it takes to dedicate themselves for that length of time.  Personally I have no issues using this over two school years and just moving at our own pace as we see fit.

If you want a really comprehensive reading, spelling, and grammar program for your children.. this is it!  Especially if you don’t mind a longer schedule or feel enough confidence to change the schedule as you see fit for your children.

What About That Phonics with Phonograms App

This app is meant to accompany the Essentials program.  It allows you set up multiple children so that they can practice their phonograms individual and at their own pace.  The phonograms can be reviewed in two different ways. In one situation the child is required to touch each card that appears on the screen and the sounds will be played for the child to hear. The second option is to have all of the sounds spoken as each card is shown.

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The child then plays something of a card game.  The phonograms are spoken aloud and they are required to choose the card with the phonogram they just heard.  If they choose the wrong one it is grayed out and they are given another chance to try again.  The app collects information for you as the child moves along so the parent is able to see which phonograms the child answered correctly on the first try and which ones they need more work with.

There are a total of 10 levels covering 74 of the phonograms.  New phonograms are introduced at each level though old ones are reviewed as well. The parent can even setup a customized list of phonograms for the child to work through.  Some of the phonograms include spelling hints and suggestions for when it is appropriate to use them.

Logic of English Review

How We Used This

Each of my boys, ages 6 and 8, used this app several times a week.  I often handed them the iPad when I found we had a bit of a gap in the schedule or while they waited on me to finish up something with one of the other children.  I did not create custom levels for them as I thought a review of all of the phonograms would be most beneficial.  The extra practice on the app really helped reinforce their phonograms which intern helped us speed along in our phonogram lessons during our usual Essentials routine.

My Overall Thoughts!

Over all, I thought this was a fantastic app and I appreciate having it in our educational app lineup.  It compliments what we are doing in the Essentials program perfectly.  A great reinforcer for those important skills that are so essential to reading and spelling.  I love that we can use this with multiple children.  The ability to create custom levels in very handy. Though it truly follows the Essentials curriculum I could certainly see using this as a stand alone program if one was using a different curriculum.

You can purchase it yourself for $2.99! Check out the Logic of English Website for more details.

 

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