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IEW and Style: My Current Thoughts.... FWIW


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We have used a TON of IEW materials for the past twelve months. It's been a terrific experience for us all. I believe that their program has made me a better teacher.

 

For those who are considering IEW, but who are afraid that they will ruin their children by teaching them bad style, I would like to offer up this paragraph from George Brown Tindall’s America. Amazon has this to say about the text: “Used by over one million students, America: A Narrative History is one of the most successful American history textbooks ever published.”

 

Agreed, it’s a textbook. But one could argue that it’s a decent example of expository writing. This morning my kids and I spent ten minutes looking at this sample paragraph from page 218 of the 7th edition:

 

Estimating how many Americans remained loyal to Britain was a central concern of English military planners, for they based many of their decisions on such figures. Through most of the war, the British sought to align themselves with an elusive Tory majority that the Loyalists kept telling them was waiting only for British regulars to show the flag. Often they miscalculated. Generally Tories were concentrated in the seaport cities, but they came from all walks of life. Governors, judges, and other royal officials were almost all Loyalists; most Anglican ministers also preferred the mother country; colonial merchants might be tugged one way or the other, depending upon how much they had benefited or suffered from mercantilist regulation; the wealthy southern planters were swayed one way by dependence upon British bounties, another by their debts to British merchants. In the backcountry of New York and the Carolinas, many humble folk rallied to the crown. Where planter aristocrats tended to be Whig, as in North Carolina, backcountry farmers (many of them recently Regulators) leaned to the Tories.

 

We marked it using the IEW checklist and briefly discussed Tindall’s word, phrase, and sentence choices.

 

This is how we marked it. See below for a list of IEW’s style requirements:

 

[4] Estimating how many Americans remained loyal to Britain was a central concern of English military planners, for they based many of their decisions on such figures. [2] Through most of the war, the British sought to align themselves with an elusive Tory majority that the Loyalists kept telling them was waiting only for British regulars to show the flag. [6] Often they miscalculated. [3] Generally Tories were concentrated in the seaport cities, but they came from all walks of life. [1] Governors, judges, and other royal officials were almost all Loyalists; most Anglican ministers also preferred the mother country; colonial merchants might be tugged one way or the other, depending upon how much they had benefited or suffered from mercantilist regulation; the wealthy southern planters were swayed one way by dependence upon British bounties, another by their debts to British merchants. [2] In the backcountry of New York and the Carolinas, many humble folk rallied to the crown. [5] Where planter aristocrats tended to be Whig, as in North Carolina, backcountry farmers (many of them recently Regulators) leaned to the Tories.

 

Dress-ups – these are underlined above.

Quality adjective: there are plenty to choose from. We picked: elusive

Strong verb: lots of choices here. We picked: sought

-ly word - an adverb: recently

who/which clause: he didn’t include one. In some paragraphs he includes them and in some he includes an invisible who/which where the who/which/that is eliminated but the rest of the appositive phrase/clause is included.

http://www.asia.because'>http://www.asia.because'>http://www.asia.because'>http://www.asia.because clause: he didn’t include one. But he does use them often in his other paragraphs.

dual verbs, -ly’s or adj’s: benefited or suffered

 

 

Sentence Openers – designed to move the child away from starting every sentence with a noun. After they learn about each different type, they are required to use one of each in every paragraph before they are allowed to repeat. These are numbered in brackets before each example. Tindall used all six in this paragraph with no repeats.

 

[1] Subject

[2] Preposition

[3] -ly word (Adverb opener)

[4] -ing phrase (This will end up being either a participle or a gerund. It will also end up being either a word, phrase, or clause. Once the student knows about the difference, you can discuss their choice more intelligently.)

[5] http://www.asia.because clause (This is an adverb clause that begins with either when, while, where, as, since, is, although, or because. Advanced students are encouraged to use other adverb clauses.)

[6] VSS (Very Short Sentence)

 

Decorations - in italics

My kids found the alliteration (recently Regulators). And we discussed the parallel structure of the sentence that begins with “Governors, judges, and other royal officials.” Not only does it begin with a triple subject, but the sentence goes on to use a nice parallel-clause technique to introduce the examples, a much more adult-sounding way to make a list. It replaces the usual middle-grade transitions: first, next, finally.

 

The -ly adverb really is one of the cheesiest dress-ups. It’s the first to be taught in the IEW program, so it’s the first to drop off the checklist as the child learns to use more advanced grammar in their writing.

 

And he didn’t use a “who/which.” As soon as the child learns to use them, they are encouraged to move toward using them without the words “who/which/that.” Then they too drop off the child’s style-checklist. The child can use them when and if they fit the tone the child is trying to convey.

 

IEW doesn’t use the “style checklist” as a method of squashing creativity. Nor do the creators of the program believe that good authors use all of these “techniques” when they write. But plenty of authors use some of them. One of the program’s biggest benefits for us is that it got us all actively thinking and talking about word choices.

 

For us one of the other benefits of the program is that it has taught my kids how to hold lots of options in their heads while they write. It was really hard for them at first, but I think that the exercise will have long-term benefits.

 

During the middle-stage of writing, IEW’s style requirements have been a great way to apply all of that middle-grade-grammar to writing. Do my kids use these techniques well? No! But they are using them. Yes, sometimes their writing sounds formulaic and immature. But I’m not always focused on the product at this level; I’m trying to focus on the process too. That darn IEW “checklist” has forced my kids to play around with words until they produce compositions that sound the way they want them to sound – or not. Either way they are being forced to make choices with their words and sentences while still trying to convey their content. And they have vocabulary to argue about the quality of their choices. Sometimes they get SO frustrated. “I can’t insert a who/which ANYWHERE without it sounding dumb.” A wise momma knows if they are making an intelligent idea choice or they are just being lazy and don’t want to flesh out their ideas. When the child knows how to use a technique (dress-up, sentence opener, or decoration) effectively and they have practiced using it often, then the teacher allows it drop off the requirement list. The child is encouraged to use it when and if they want it.

 

But why work that hard? Why force them to write with a style restriction when it hampers their ability to cleanly convey content – what they want to say? I used to ask myself that all of the time. It seemed silly to tie one arm behind their back and force them into unnecessary wordiness. At first it made more sense to me to let them settle on the style they felt comfortable with. Wouldn't a clean style be better? But then I realized that they weren’t making conscious style choices. They were just putting their ideas down on paper. However it came out, it came out. “It just flows, Mom.”

 

So I started thinking about it some more.

 

When a child first learns to write, they have to learn how to form each letter on their own. Then they learn how to form sentences. Sentences begin with a capital letter. There are spaces between the words. Every sentence ends with some kind of punctuation. The child is trying to do multiple things at once. They are still trying to remember all of the “rules” for making each letter, but now they are layering on the next skill – combining those letters to form something more complex – the sentence. The sentence is WHAT they want to say, but the sentence form is HOW they need to say it; each letter within the sentence still has a "what" and a "how" element to it too.

 

When my kids were little, they knew how to make a letter “b” on their penmanship page. But when they were being asked to remember to leave a space between the word “The” and the word “ball”, that “b” flipped around and showed up backwards. I corrected them. They knew what letter to make; they just couldn’t remember how to make it. It was REALLY hard to do; they thought their head was going to pop. But eventually they learned how to bounce effectively between the what and the how - and the layered what/how of sentences vs. letters. It seemed really hard at first, but then they became good at it. The what and the how worked together automatically - both of them. They wrote great sentences.

 

(See below... this post got too long......)

Edited by Janice in NJ
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Part two from above.....

 

Fast-forward to the middle grades. The child is being asked to write a coherent paragraph. There are lots of “paragraph†rules: topic sentence, supporting sentences, a concluding sentence. Then of course the child is being asked to generate content that fits within that paragraph structure. So I teach my kids to always do some sort of prewriting. They need to jot down what they want to say so they can rearrange their ideas so the ideas support their topic and so they connect the ideas together in a logical way. So now they know WHAT they want to say, but we are still working toward the rhetoric-level: now we need to focus on HOW they want to say it. (And I really think that "how" muscle atrophies a bit during the middle grades.) I have tried to use too many middle-grade writing programs that focus on the forms of papers – what to say - but don’t spend enough time on style. The problem we ran into is that my kids got too used to doing only a few things at a time when they are writing. They may know what they want to say, but they weren’t being challenged to make choices about how they want to say it. So they got used to working on the structure of their papers, but their brains got lazy. That grammar-level “how†of sentence formation was easy; they were on autopilot with that one. Focusing on their content, they would churn out page after page. Nicely done. But I knew they weren’t being critical of their style choices. The words just “flowed.†When I asked them about it, the would just say, “I don’t know. I just write.â€

 

No problem. Right? But then we got to the rhetoric stage. My oldest was being asked to hold those two little-kid ideas again: what you want to say and how you want to say it. He was being asked to bounce between the what and the how – because now the how was really important again. He thought his head was going to pop. He hadn’t been asked to do that since those early sentence-forming lessons. And he was mighty resistant to it. His brains had gotten lazy. He had learned all of this grammar, but he didn’t know how to wield it in his writing. We were learning new rhetoric skills – great “how†techniques, but he wasn’t used to making these kinds of choices WHILE he wrote sentences that revealed content. He could do one or the other. He could do sentence-by-sentence rhetoric exercises, but he kept trailing off with his content when he would focus on these “how to say what you want to say†skills in his paragraphs. For example: now we were talking about generating arguments. Pick word choice - if your argument is a bit fuzzy, you might want to appeal to your audience’s emotions. You can easily do this by choosing a different verb here. What kinds of verbs will make this argument seem silly – without actually coming right out and saying that your opponent is silly. Or let’s talk about sentence length. Do you see how this author uses these long sentences here to list his causes and then this really short sentence to state his conclusion - the effect? How does that affect the reader?

 

In my experience R level writing seems to be not just what you say but how you say it. IEW has been a great way for my middle-level writers because it forces them to practice those two things a once – and to struggle with them – at a skill-appropriate level. And yes, sometimes they seem to work at odds with each other. But I suspect that in the end, good authors learn how to bring them together; eventually they stop working against each other and start playing on the same team.

 

IEW has taught my kids how to juggle their grammatical choices and their content AS they write. I think that learning how to integrate and layer multiple skills is an important part of the writing process. IEW has pushed my kids in that direction; I think it has been good for them.

 

IEW never intends for the child to continue using the style checklists for life. But for us the process has been a good way to train the brain to continue to do multiple things at once during that middle-stage of writing.

 

And I don’t think it will hamper their style long-term. For us it’s given us vocabulary to exploring other authors’ choices, and the opportunity to play around with those choices. My kids like some things but don't like others. But at least they are becoming more and more aware of the mediums that different artists use. IEW's style checklist helped to lay that foundation, but it isn't the end. We’re building on that foundation.

 

Peace,

Janice

 

Enjoy your little people

Enjoy your journey

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Thank you sooooo much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us. We are just starting our journey with IEW and I am sure these questions and concerns would have surfaced. Thank you for addressing them and thank you for the encouraging words about this great program! :001_smile:

 

(printing this out for later!)

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Great Post!

 

I have analyzed, with some of my co-op students, works by Roald Dahl. His paragraphs are often structured as if he were following the IEW formula to the letter. He seems to have done pretty well as a writer.

 

Also, the dress-ups in IEW are, IMO, the same as the six sentence shuffle in CW. But rather than rewriting one sentence over and over, the students are applying all of the methods across their writing assignment. (I know they're not exactly the same, but they accomplish the same end goal.)

 

The problem with IEW is that it doesn't teach the children how to add the clauses and what not, naturally. I try to encourage my students to write their assignments first and add the dress-ups afterwards. Most of them try to add all of the elements in their 1st draft. It stifles their writing when they do this.

 

If they write it first, they will often find that they have many, if not all, of the elements in there already. Then they can take a sentence and find a way to modify it, naturally, to incorporate the dress-ups they need to add.

 

Kimberly

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We are just starting out with IEW. It has been somewhat discouraging to hear the recent negative reviews of this program. I have two reluctant writers that I hope will benefit from this program. I need a lot of instruction on how to teach writing and so far it seems to be just what we need. Thanks again!

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Thank you for taking the time to type all of this out. These are intriguing thoughts indeed.

 

Putting on speculation hat: I wonder if the complaints about formulaic writing from IEW students actually stem from seeing students who did not stick with IEW long enough to "internalize" the checklists into mature writing.

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You can solve quadratics with the quadratic formula. Mindlessly crank, crank, crank. But it doesn't take kids long to realize that sometimes it's just easier to pull out the common factor. Wait a minute!

 

Either way, they have learned lots of different techniques and now they are ready to see the best solution - the one that gets them there the fastest with the smallest chance for error.

 

It's been worth our times to crank through all of those math problems with all of those different methods - over and over and over again. Now my kids can see! At least most of the time. Sometimes they still just stare at the page. :001_smile:

 

Peace,

Janice

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...which is that for a reluctant writer, IEW would be very helpful in encouraging engaging writing, and for a writer who has a good writing voice already, holding off until about 6th grade and then doing IEW would enable the material to be assimilated without 'taking over' the style and writing voice of the student.

 

I think that the lists are a good fallback, just like knowing the subject verbs is a good fallback for working on sentences with predicate nominatives and appositives. (sp)

 

I think that IEW can add some good tools to a student's repertoire, if it's not allowed to dominate their style too much.

Edited by Carol in Cal.
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I really love to hear how this is working for others. I don't want to hijack this post but I have a question regards how we are using IEW - If I don't get any responses I will just post this as a separate post.

 

This is our first year with IEW and I have had mixed feelings about it. It has definitely helped my ds9 with his writing which was abysmal at best before, however, he has a really hard time picking out words for the outline and then when he writes his paragraph, many times the sentences are stand alones and don't flow together. He seems to to better on stories where there is a more obvious sequence to the the sentences but even then the sentences don't always flow. The surprising thing to me is that this child reads at a high school level and reads every day of his own accord so I don't know why some of that wouldn't translate to his writing. I ask him does this sound like something you would read in one of your books and his answer is "no."

 

Any thoughts, recommendations, etc would be greatly appreciated. :confused:

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If you want a good overview but don't want to invest in the DVDs, you could just buy the Structure and Sense book that it is based on. Some of us are past where we need someone to 'show' us how .

 

Okay, not neccesarily me but i did get a bit frustrated with having to watch DVDs.

 

I think it is a great program and i appreciate the focus on teaching the teachers.

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This is our first year with IEW and I have had mixed feelings about it. It has definitely helped my ds9 with his writing which was abysmal at best before, however, he has a really hard time picking out words for the outline and then when he writes his paragraph, many times the sentences are stand alones and don't flow together. He seems to to better on stories where there is a more obvious sequence to the the sentences but even then the sentences don't always flow. The surprising thing to me is that this child reads at a high school level and reads every day of his own accord so I don't know why some of that wouldn't translate to his writing. I ask him does this sound like something you would read in one of your books and his answer is "no."

 

Any thoughts, recommendations, etc would be greatly appreciated. :confused:

 

Give him a couple of years.

 

Some kids are natural writers. It's like they have "internal flow". Other kids have to mature into it. Some people never do (for whatever reason). I know a kid who had completed English 101 and 102 at Princeton by the age of 12, but science kicked him in the head! My kid was reading Feynman at 12, but writing.... hoo boy.

 

I really think that much of this just comes with time - be it internal (developmental) or external (the simple passing of the years).

 

 

asta

 

(whose DS is finally able to "flow", courtesy of IEW)

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