Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Write with the Best and other EDUDPS Products (TOS Review)

See the end of this review for links and current discounts.

When I heard that we were going to be reviewing products by something called Educational Diagnostic Prescriptive Services, I had no idea that they would include a writing curriculum by a homeschooling mom (Jill Dixon) who refers to Charlotte Mason and the "love of learning," as well as a careers-awareness guide and a vocabulary program.

EDUDPS does sell assessment and remedial products such as The Concise Learning Styles Assessment / POC4U, The Homeschooler's Guide to Learning Problems / The Homeschooler's Guide for Attentional Difficulties, The Diagnostic Prescriptive Assessment - K through 5th Grades, and The Total Language Diagnostic Assessment / The Diagnostic Grade Placement Screening. However, the three books that were sent to the Review Crew (actually four, since Write with the Best comes in two levels) are meant for general rather than remedial use, and are written particularly for homeschoolers.

EDUDPS boasts that its writing curriculum contains "8 Things Every Home School Mom and/or Writing Teacher is looking for in a Writing Curriculum" including "ease of use, activities that spark interest in reluctant and inexperienced writers, and thoroughness in teaching how to write every genre and not just one such as only descriptive paragraphs or essays." Volume 1 is labelled for grades 3-12, and Volume 2 (emphasizing expository writing) is for grades 6-12. Those familiar with Ruth Beechick's writing lessons and her references to Jack London's and Benjamin Franklin's self-teaching methods (modelling writing on good writers) will find this familiar ground, and yes, this sort of curriculum could be presented to students of different ages without too many changes. It's somewhat like the drawing curriculum we're using that teaches the elements of art--only these are the elements of writing. How does a good writer or artist keep your attention, make you believe, make you forget that you're only looking at globs of paint or words on a piece of paper? Younger students will have different results than more experienced writers, but both can benefit. (A warning, though, that the suggested passages start with Jules Verne and continue with Dickens, O. Henry and so on, with a reading level that may be difficult for elementary students.)

Is a composition or creative writing curriculum needed in a CM education? No, not necessarily. Regular readers of our blog know that most writing programs (especially anything involving cinquains or haiku) make me shudder. We've always taught mostly by the "osmosis" (read lots of books) method, with some attention to literary elements, essay format etc. just before high school. However, this program seemed to match up well with our middle-school student (only Ponytails is using this book), and our reading and writing interests. After I had checked out the free downloads on these products, which are quite generous, I was looking forward to getting the full e-books.

I have one word of advice based on our experience at that point, and it will probably be echoed in other TOS reviews: the e-book versions of these books, although the prices are attractive, are difficult to download, difficult to handle, and difficult to print. The explanation for this situation is given on the website, and while we're sympathetic to the problems that caused the company's decision to go with an unusual format, it doesn't make it easy for the customers. For instance, you can't print out individual pages (although many of the lessons expect you to mark or circle words in a literary passage; you have permission to photocopy those pages). You have to print all 109 pages of Volume 1, with all the answer keys, additional literary passages, and "how to write guides." You might be better off ordering this book (and the others, all in the same format) pre-printed. (Canadian and other foreign purchasers need to check the website for shipping details.)

So, now that we've gotten over that hassle--two of the books printed, and our school year underway, what should we say about Write with the Best and Roots and Fruits? Are they worthwhile? Are they more than you could probably figure out yourself? Do students enjoy them? Do they become better writers? Well, I can't answer most of those questions yet. So far Ponytails has completed only one lesson of Write with the Best (we're taking a week off to do a mini-course on "Writing without Flab"). It took her a couple of weeks, during which time she read a descriptive passage from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, marked verbs, nouns etc. in the passage, was sent off to find a similar passage in one of our books, studied and wrote that one from dictation, read a rather dry description of yer old standard topic-sentence paragraph, and then wrote a descriptive paragraph of her own. Which I was quite pleased with...I had asked her please not to write a boring "This is about my hamster. My hamster is cute and fluffy" paragraph, so she wrote a more original description of Snowball.

There isn't a big learning curve required for a parent to use this curriculum--it's pretty much open-the-book-and-teach, with activities labelled Monday to Friday for each two-week unit. (You can go faster or slower if you want.) Sometimes we read through a lesson together, and sometimes Ponytails works on her own. The parts-of-speech exercises may make you think that it's a grammar curriculum as much as a writing one; but we're not diagramming sentences here, we're looking at how writers use words effectively. I try to emphasize that during lessons.

We've also started using Roots and Fruits, with both girls. "Vocabulary made easy! Greek and Latin based vocabulary curriculum with a unique and effective approach." I don't know if I agree that R&F is a unique approach--I mean, how many approaches can there be to learning Greek and Latin roots or prefixes? But it's probably as good as other similar programs, and the price seems reasonable. You could make up root lists on your own, but this does save you the trouble and puts it all in one book.

The book is mostly made up of lists of those prefixes (with some marked as most appropriate for younger children, others marked for their frequency on tests such as the S.A.T.), their meanings, and sample vocabulary words, plus some suggestions for scheduling and for practice and review games. You write roots on file cards, post word lists on the wall, look up meanings in the dictionary, play concentration-type games, and make up "goofy sentences" with the vocabulary words. Again, you can make this more or less complex according to the age of the students.

The one book I was somewhat disappointed in was The Complete Career, College, and High School Guide for Homeschoolers. "Now you are in control! Get final answers, discover your student's best career, and focus your plan and career goals as early as Middle School. This guide has everything you need!" I didn't find this book particularly engaging, although it tries to cover a lot of ground. It has a work preference survey (pretty obvious questions, such as asking if you would enjoy driving a delivery truck or managing a toy store); personality profile questions; SAT advice; career planning forms; things to consider for Christian men (who expect to be supporting a family) and Christian women (who expect to be having a family--there are special lists of stay-at-home jobs and part-time jobs); high school requirements and accreditation information for homeschoolers; and then job descriptions of "Popular Careers/College Majors for Homeschoolers." The mix here of college majors with actual careers is strange: we have "Nursing" followed by "Philosophy" and "Political Science." There are many, many things you could do for a living that don't even appear on these lists: our daughter is apprenticing as a hairstylist, but beauty, hairstyling, cosmetology and aesthetics are not mentioned. The trades in general seem to be given short shrift, and that's too bad.

Again, if all this is new to you, and you want the information all in one place; or if your high schooler is required to take a Careers course and you'd like a Christian, homeschool-friendly approach, you might find this worthwhile. Otherwise I think you're just as far ahead to do your own investigating.

Here are the prices (on sale for 25% off right now):

Write with the Best, Volume 1
E-book on sale a limited time for $14.95 (regular $19.95)
Printed Pages Only - No Binder $22.45
3-Ring Binder $24.95

Write with the Best, Volume 2
E-book on sale a limited time for $18.65 (Regularly $24.95)
Pages Only - No Binder $27.45
3-Ring Binder $29.95

Roots and Fruits (Vocabulary Curriculum)
E-book on sale a limited time for $11.25 (Regularly $14.98)
Pages Only - No Binding: $17.48
Comb-binding: $19.98

The Complete Career, College and High School Guide for Homeschoolers
E-book on sale a limited time for $26.20 (Regularly $34.95)
Soft-cover: $39.95

For other reviews of this product, see the Old Schoolhouse Review Crew website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: These products were received free for review purposes. No other payment was made.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I have used the Write with Best program and the testing for my 4th grader. I agree, downloading and printing was a pain. If I had to do it again, I would pay the extra money to have them print it. I know they don't want people to steal the material, but its kind of ridiculous. So far, the Jules Verne stuff was too hard for my daughter to get. We actually supplemented with books she did like, such as looking up an object in Little House on the Prairie. This seemed to spark her interest much more than looking at the passage from Verne. Overall, I think it is a much better curriculum than Writing Strands. The testing I bought seemed to help focus on what areas my daughter was weak in. It certainly is an interesting concept and I do like the Writing materials and testing. Thanks for the review.

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