Demystifying the Institute for Excellence in Writing

Institute for Excellence in Writing

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

Home educating mothers tend to be overwhelmed by two subjects in particular.  Science and writing.  OK.  Upper level math too.  Since I’m not much of a left-brained gal, I won’t be writing any posts about dead animal dissections or the wonders of derivatives, but I do love English—and writing is something I like to read and write about.

Ten years ago I started using the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) program, and while I tend to dabble around with various curricula in almost all of the other subjects, for writing, I’ve found a place to permanently hang my proverbial hat.

But for newbies, it can be confusing.  I’ve had countless conversations with moms who are interested in this program but feel faint when visiting their website.  The website is actually well organized, and, I think, pretty clear on things.  BUT there is so much information to process that it feels overwhelming.

It also appears to cost a lot of money, and you sort of feel like, if you have to refinance your home in order to invest in one of their seminars, you want to make sure you get the right one—and that it delivers.  You know—the next C.S. Lewis, straight from your womb to the world.

I can’t promise that your child will be John Piper when he grows up, but I can tell you that he (yes, even “he”) will be able to write better and more interesting papers than most (maybe all) of the college students I tutored many years ago.

When he is in junior high.

So how can you avail yourself of this writing method when, after spending several days studying the website, you still have deep insecurities about where to begin with your particular child?

That’s where this post could come in handy.  I’m going to do my best to make this easy for you, not necessarily by saying anything that their website doesn’t already say, but by laying it out in a more conversational format to make it feel more like “you can do this.”  I’m not an affiliate nor is anyone giving me a freebie for writing this.  I’m really just trying to help.  So let’s get started.

Where Do I Begin?

Not with IEW.  (GASP!)

For your little ones, you can simply focus on learning how to read and copying simple words and sentences.  I love the McGuffey readers for this purpose.  If you get the Parent-Teacher Guide for the Original McGuffey Readers book along with the Eclectic Pictorial Primer, Eclectic Primer, and first reader, that will give you all the copy work your child will need until they are around 7-9.  No bells and whistles needed.

It will also give your child practice writing good sentences.  That’s a solid foundation on which to build the rest of their writing skills.  Think about it.  Apprentices, whether they are learning how to paint pictures, sculpt statues, shoe horses, or build websites, learn best by copying.  In the “old days” when literacy was at a high in our country, students learned to craft excellent sentences by copying excellent sentences.

This is all you need for reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and penmanship for those first 2-3 years.  Seems too simple (and inexpensive) to work, but it does.  And you don’t need to use the McGuffeys.  That was just one idea.  Craft your home school any way you’d like.

Three Routes to the Same Destination

There are three ways to go about the IEW program.  You can pick one—or be like me and try them all.

Way One

Learn how to teach writing by purchasing and watching the 10 hour seminar for parents and teachers, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style ($169), and then tailoring the program to dovetail with whatever you are doing for history or literature studies.  This is the most cost effective option IF you are confident and determined to learn how to do it yourself.  I learned more about how to teach writing just by watching this seminar than I did in college.  (I have an English Education degree!)

In other words, you could potentially purchase that seminar, learn the ropes, and never have to purchase another product from IEW again.  You’d be set to teach writing to all your children, at any level.  All you’d need is motivation.

This is the option I chose back when I had two school aged children and no money.  It was a huge investment for us at the time, but I’m really glad I had that training as a foundation for what followed.  Because after I started adding more children, I started losing motivation to teach writing on my own.

Way Two

Step aside and let Mr. Pudewa teach your children via “Student Writing Intensives”.   It’s painless, he’s funny and motivational, and your kids will enjoy it as much as any kid COULD enjoy this subject.

But here’s where the “intensive-confusion” begins.  So let’s break it down.  There are two Student Writing Intensives: {1} the Student Writing Intensive ($109), and {2} the Student Writing Intensive Continuation Course ($199).

The Student Writing Intensive is shorter and can be completed in half a year.  Then you can simply use the remainder of the year to practice the things they learned in the class.  The Student Writing Intensive Continuation Course takes a year to complete (which is why it costs more).

You will want to start with the Student Writing Intensive if you’ve never used this program before.  There are three levels to choose from here: A, B and C.   All three of these levels basically teach THE SAME THING but at an appropriate level for that age group.  In other words, there is not a progression of material in these levels—but rather an age-appropriate presentation of the same material.

This is approximate, but choose level A for students ages 9-11, level B for students ages 12-14, and level C for students ages 15-18.  Easy enough.  BUT what if you have, say, a 10 and 12 year old.  Do you have to buy both level A and level B?

Maybe not.  With this program, you can fudge things a bit.  If your 10 year old is quite bright, you could get away with starting them both in level B.  Likewise, if  your 12 year old struggles, you may want to start them both in level A.

I’ve stretched the rules quite a bit over the years and found that the program is fairly elastic.  Generally speaking, you’re pretty safe with level B for ages 11-15, and then if you want to move on to the Continuation Course, you can branch out to level C for the oldest students and get the level B again for the younger ones.

Speaking of the Continuation Course, that’s the next step after your child has completed the Student Writing Intensive.  It CONTINUES, or picks up, where the first one left off, and again, you get to select the appropriate level: A, B, or C.

Since you will probably be doing the Continuation Course the following year, your student will be a year older, and depending on their age, you may want to move them to a different level as well.

For example, let’s say you have an and 11 and 14 year old who completed the Student Writing Intensive in the Level B together, and now the 11 year old is 12 and the 14 year old is 15.   You may want to get the Continuation Course in Level B for the now 12 year old, and in Level C for the now 15 year old.

If you’ve got a dozen children, you’ll likely end up collecting the entire, well, collection over the years.  The nice thing is, you can recycle the classes over and over again as many times as your family size dictates.

Here’s another idea: you can save some money by going through the classes with another family and sharing in the cost.

Way Three

Go through the Teaching Writing, Structure and Style seminar for parents/teachers and then use their theme based writing lesson books.  You do need to understand the methodology behind this program in order to teach the theme based writing books.  Because they are written with the assumption that the parent knows the program, they can’t be used as stand-alone curriculum.

Last year I took my 10 and 12 year old through the Ancient History based writing lessons (great for students in levels A and B) because we were studying ancient history at the time.  I loved how it laid everything out for me painlessly—and added to what we were already learning in history.  This next year we are going to do the Medieval History based writing lessons.  As I’ve looked over these new lesson books, I’ve noticed that they built in more grammar practice than they did with the Ancient History lessons.  This is a nice bonus, I think.

Other Excellent Resources

I’ve used some of their other writing resources over the years as well.  The Elegant Essay will teach you and your older student (13-18) the steps to writing—elegant essays.  I went through this with both of my older boys one year, and I still refer to it when I’m having them write an essay for any given subject.

For example, my 16 year old has a reading list each month for the upcoming school year, and he will be required to write one essay per month based on something he is studying either for literature or for history.  Since he has already been through The Elegant Essay, he knows the steps and is able to execute this assignment on his own with very little help from me.

Another resource we have LOVED is Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis.  Again, we took a year to work through this resource, and it enabled our sons to be able to read a piece of literature and know how to analyze it on many different levels.  Some of the papers Phillip will be required to write this next year will involve literary analysis.  He can do that because of this training.

Our boys have also worked through the High School Essay Intensive, How to Write a Story,  and their Speech Boot Camp.  (We did this with 9 other home schooled students and had a blast!)  I’ve never been even slightly disappointed with any of their resources, and I’ve learned so much right alongside of the kids.  It has really provided a far better foundation for teaching writing and literature than anything I experienced in college.

This upcoming year we are trying their Fix It grammar books for the first time, and after looking them over in preparation for the year, I’m very excited about teaching grammar this way.  I’ll have to let you know how it goes when the year is over!

Happy Writing!

***Update in 2013***  LOVED the Fix It grammar books!

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Natalie Klejwa is a Wemmick, loved by the Woodcarver, wife of 22 years to Joe, and mother to 9 Wemmicks ages 2-20. She is a business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), founder and administrator of the Visionary Womanhood blog, publisher and contributing author of Three Decades of Fertility, You Can Do it Too! 25 Families Share Their Stories, and The Heart of Simplicity: Foundations for Christian Homemaking.

You can hear her being interviewed on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision radio program.

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31 thoughts on “Demystifying the Institute for Excellence in Writing

  1. Thank you for this. You have answered the questions that have been rolling around in my head for months! I am very impressed with IEW, but until have not been able to wrap my brain around the ‘how-to’s’ when figuring in to our schooling schedule. I get it now!

  2. Nataly,
    Thanks for this overview of IEW. Even though my son works for Andrew, I still haven’t ‘demystified’ it’s use in our home. Or better yet, I haven’t developed the self-discipline to build the routine in our home.

    But we have used it off and on for years, and we have been to several of Mr. P’s live seminars. We thoroughly enjoy his teaching style and I tell my son that I wish they would put out a daily seminar. I’d pay just to have Andrew teach my kids every day. He’s a master!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this.

  3. This was great timing for me. I own a few of the IEW curriculums and have never used them. I think I am ready to start though and was happy to read that my plan to use SWI followed by the Continuation Course is a good path. My kids were late readers and writers and we just never got around to IEW. Really appreciate the info here!

  4. Natalie,

    Our family is looking for a new change for writing. Specifically, I’m needing to find a complete curriculum that will take 3 of our middle-ages kids step-by-step through the basics of writing, along with daily lesson plans. I think the Student Writing Intensive ($109 version, level B) would be a good for starters. Are these daily class instructions (on DVD?) and would we also need to purchase workbook curriculum to go with these? Could 3 kids go through the course together? Is there a book or workbook that we would need to purchase for each of the kids? How much daily/weekly teacher-intensive-time is required to make this program work? (I’m considering several different options right now. I really need to find something all organized in daily lesson plans that the kids can progress through, mostly independently.) I’m not sure if this would be the right curriculum for us, but it sounds good.

    • They can absolutely go through it all together. It comes with the student workbook…(I think it may be a download now?) and you can make as many copies of that as you need for your family. It is laid out for you in nice bite sizes for each day. All you, as the teacher, need to do is let them know what they need to watch that day…and what their assignment is. For example, they might watch the video clip on Monday, write up a key word outline on Tuesday, write a paragraph on Wednesday with the dress ups, go over it with you on Thursday (you will have an objective check list, making it very easy to correct their writing), and rewrite it on Friday. As they grow more advanced, the assignments may be longer, but this gives you a basic idea of how it practically plays out. Writing is always going to be one of the more “teacher-intensive” subjects…but this program makes it less so than most I’ve seen. And having Mr. Pudewa do the actual teaching is a sheer delight. You are, more or less, simply monitoring their work.

  5. Thank you so much for this review of the IEW program. Just this week I was trying to decide which items to purchase. This helps so much in understanding the program better.

  6. Oh my goodness! God’s timing is amazing! We are bringing in two IEW instructors to our co-op this year to teach writing to our 5th-12th graders. They are using theme based lessons, your option 3. I have been getting questions about the program I can’t answer. I’m sending out your post to our whole co-op. Thanks friend! :)

  7. Oh I am SOOOO saving this post in my Favorites!! Probably the most helpful homeschooling post I’ve read yet this year!! Going into our 17th year of home education here and IEW has always scared me. I might get up the nerve to try this!!

  8. Excellent post!
    I have a son that is preparing for the ACT. I see two essay programs, High School Essay Intensive and Elegant Essay. Is there one that you would recommend over the other?

  9. Hi! So I have been using Shurley English and just bought IEW. Now my question is do I “need” to continue with shurley English as well as the IEW program? Or is IEW all I need for my 6 th grader. We have been diagramming sentences the past 3 years I was not sure if I needed to continue…. Thanks!

    • IEW focuses on actual writing. It’s a holistic approach that incorporates sentence structure practice into the actual writing process itself. I did do some grammar practice on the side though. I didn’t make it a major focus though.

  10. Thank you for this very helpful post! I have been considering using the IEW curriculum for some time, but not sure if it was actually “okay” or “possible” to take the main seminar, and then just apply the principles–without the use of the Student Intensives. I’m really excited now. Okay, my kids are only 3 and 2 right now, but hey, you can’t start planning ahead too soon, I guess. :-) I did have a question for you. How much extra grammar, spelling, and language arts material is necessary to supplement this program, do you think? In the young grades, if they’re doing lots of copywork, is a language arts curriculum necessary as well? How much supplementation have you done? I want my kids to be as well-rounded and grounded in the English language and its use as possible, but I don’t want to spend an unnecessary amount of time or money on programs that couldn’t really improve much on what they would learn through the IEW program…

    • I wouldn’t worry so much about grammar in the younger years. By the time your kids are old enough for you to care – you will have a better idea of what direction you want to go. :) We did do grammar on the side though – just didn’t make it a major focus in the elementary years. They really aren’t ready, developmentally, to grasp serious grammar at a young age anyway.

  11. Natalie,

    I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your post about IEW. I have been wanting to try out this writing curriculum since I first heard about it years ago. I went to IEW’s site right after reading your summary and confidently purchased what I KNEW I needed. Thank you really isn’t even a big enough word for the gratitude I have for folks like you who so willingly offer their time,wisdom, and encouragement to others. I feel so blessed by the amazing curriculum available-like IEW- as well as the homeschool community in general. My sincerest thanks to you.

  12. Natalie,

    I am a working Mom with a child about to enter kindergarten. While I live in an great school district (for now) I still have reservations about the product I can expect in the public school system. Unfortunately, public school is what I can afford and I can’t stay home. Would you recommend using IEW or any of the other solutions outside of the public school curriculum?

    I want to offer my child time to play and just be a child but I also want to ensure she gains confidence in her learning and the desire to learn all her life. I am looking at IEW for writing and Singapore math to help with math. While I am an engineer by training I have never felt like I really “got it” for math. I have heard from one home-schooling mother the Singapore math is an amazing tool to help your child really “get” match. I would love to have her experience that as I believe really understanding math is giving expression to a whole new vision of the world.

    Any advice is much appreciated for a working and tired Mom.


    • Rebecca, you may want to wait until your daughter is older before adding more academics into her life. The best way to foster her brain health is to engage her in problem solving skills that are age appropriate and can be integrated into physical play time. I’m unfamiliar with Singapore math, so I can’t speak to that. If it involves learning through active play (body involvement), then maybe that would be a good supplement. But if it requires a young child to sit and do more paperwork, I’d avoid it at this stage in her development. Having a couple of children with brain issues has led me to reading more about this, and now I see the importance of holding off on serious academics until they are truly ready. You can actually do more harm to their development by pushing them! I know it sounds crazy, but I’d encourage you to look into this. Books like Your Child’s Growing Mind are good places to start.

  13. I am wondering about high school English credits for the IEW student writing intensive program. Would it count as a stand alone English 1 credit or would it need to be used in conjunction with another program?

    Also I have two other children and was looking at the Level B would that be suitable for a high school credit? Thanks for any help you can provide, I’m so confused.

    • You could use it for 1 English credit in “writing,” depending on the intensity of your program. We did it enough for me to count it as 1/2 credit of writing and then used something else for literature/grammar. IEW has some options there, but if you are only using their writing program then your student will have those gaps in his education unless you provide them some other way.

      If you have a student that is not as academically inclined or has mild learning disabilities, then level B works for high school. Otherwise I think you’d want to go with level C which will provide a better prep for college level writing. It really depends on the student.

  14. So, just to be really clear, if I buy the Student Writing Intensive, I don’t need to buy the Teaching Writing book. I’m considering using this for my 14-year-old who is a very good writer and capable of being self-directed. Would she be able to use the theme-based books after that?

    • Yes – if she completes both the Student Intensive and the Continuation Course at a particular level, she would be prepared to do a theme-based book at that same level. You would be out of the loop though unless you go through the Intensives with her. In other words, you won’t be able to help her with anything in the theme-based books as an instructor. She would be on her own at that point – needing to draw on what she learned in the Intensives. You also would want to make sure you get theme-based books that are at the same level as the intensive she completed. Each Intensive level adds to the knowledge/skill base, and the theme-based books assume understanding at that level.

  15. Hi! I am struggling using IEW. I bought both of the following sets: TWSS and SWI, level A. I watched most of the SWI with my son, occasionally falling asleep, not because it was boring, but because I was tired, but I feel like I’m missing something. (We’re on disc 4 but I don’t think we’ve done all the assignments.) It feels like we move along quite far in the DVD’s without doing a whole lot of writing. It’s confusing to me that the DVD’s don’t tell you when you should stop to complete work in the manual. Am I missing something? I’m realizing that I don’t really feel like watching the teaching DVD’s for myself. If I don’t, will my son get what he needs from the SWI? I’ve had the sets for a year now and we keep starting and stopping because I get so terribly frustrated.