Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: Essentials in Writing

Gess, who has special needs, is great at reading and knows her parts of speech really well. Where she struggles most is putting that into practice while writing.  When I saw that we had the opportunity to review Essentials in Writing I was excited.  This might be exactly what we needed to help Gess advance her writing skills.

Because Gess' reading skills are so far apart from her writing ability I decided to start at the beginning and chose to review the program for First Grade.

Each package comes with an instructional DVD and a PDF file with all the worksheets and assignments you will need as well as an answer key.  They do offer an option to buy a pre-printed workbook if you do not wish to do that much printing.  You will also find a letter to the parent which has a suggested lesson plan and ideas on how to use the materials.

I particularly loved that the lessons were taught for me.  Homeschooling a child with special needs can be tedious so it's nice to have a break and let someone else do the talking for a change.  While the DVD is divided into lessons it is actually a recording of one full teaching session.  Each time they get to a new concept in the video they throw up the title of that new lesson on the screen.  They do have the menu to let you choose which lesson you want to start at, so it is easy to navigate though I had a couple of problems with it.  When I used it in my DVD player the menu button would not work so once I left the start up screen I could not get back to that menu.   That made it difficult to use there, however the menu worked just fine on my laptop so we just used it there.

While the video is basically one long teaching segment the material is divided into two parts.  The first section focuses on the punctuation and grammar rules and the second half is the actual writing portion of the class.  Because Gess was very familiar with grammar I decided to do two lessons each day, one on grammar or punctuation from the first section and one on writing from the second half so I did need to hop around on the DVD a bit each day.

Gess really seemed to enjoy the lessons that were taught by Mr. Stephens.  He did a great job of explaining things to kids on their level.  He also seemed to be a lot better at getting Gess to correct her punctuation and keep her writing in line than I was.  While Gess knows you are supposed to capitalize the first letter of a sentence she often forgets.  She also tends to capitalizes random letters in the middle of a word.  I usually let that go because I know she really struggles with writing due to her special needs.  However Mr. Stephens told the students that doing that "confuses the reader" so it is important not to.  For some reason that really stuck with Gess and now if she catches herself doing that, or if I correct her, she will immediately change it and say she does not want to confuse the reader.  I am so glad that he got her to work on that!

I also enjoyed how he teaches the student to write a personal letter.  The video sessions were easy to understand and entertaining.  Gess even interacted with them if Mr. Stephens asked questions.  Here she is pointing to the answer of one of his questions about where the date goes on a personal letter.

The worksheets for practice were also really fun.  I particularly liked how they had you cut and paste the parts of a personal letter on the paper.  I think this really helped Gess nail it.  Gess is great about doing something exactly as told so I know that for the rest of her life every letter Gess writes will have all 5 parts required!

Gess enjoyed the other worksheets too and was able to do them all without assistance because the instructions were easy to follow and the layout was easy on her eyes. 

Then she finally started working on her personal letter.  You will see her letter to daddy below.  This was her final copy, not her rough draft.  Her rough draft did not place the sentences in line so I just had her re-write it properly.  This allowed her to flow through what she wanted to say first, which creatively is difficult for her, and then she could focus on where to put it. It is certainly a start.  Ignore the fact that her name is not capitalized.  Gess is learning cursive and she has not learned the capitals yet but really likes to write her name in cursive!

Now I plan to get her in a letter writing campaign over the next few months to really put this into practice.  Her brother is away at college and she has some aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews who live far away that I know would love to hear from her.

I found Essentials in Writing to be a really great resource to focus on the grammar in a way that helps you put it into real life practice.  That is exactly what we needed for Gess.  Now that she has her personal letter down we are going to start learning about paragraphs. I can not wait to see how she does.   Other than the glitch with DVD in my DVD player I had no complaints. I certainly plan on continuing the program beyond this year.  It is so refreshing to see Gess excited about writing.

Essentials in Writing First Grade is $40 and includes the DVD of the instructional teaching with printable worksheets, assignments and an answer key in PDF format.  You can also choose to buy a pre-printed workbook for an additional $20 which I did not use.  Most of the other grades appeared to be priced the same.  To learn more about this or the other grade levels visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about them by clicking on the banner below.


Disclaimer in accordance with FTC Regulations: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew I received a copy of Essentials In Writing First Grade for giving my personal, honest opinion and assessment of it in my review. It was not required to be a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.
Note: All pricing is current at the time of posting and is subject to change

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