Many parents among homeschooling circles are familiar with the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) curriculum, which has been around for a number of years and has had great success among young writers. However, parents are less familiar with the Lost Tools of Writing (LTOW) curriculum because of its relatively recent publication. Below is a quick list of pros and cons for each type of curriculum along with a summarizing assessment of both at the end.
- Very effective for discouraged young writers
- Uses a very easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach
- The procedure is the same each time: a basic and quick composition followed by editing through the use of checklists
- Students love the curriculum because they are told exactly what they need to do to compose a report/story/essay/research paper.
- Fast results and improvement in the quality of word choices encourages students to love writing
- LOTS of practice with choosing keywords from a passage (an important skill to develop!)
- Very little emphasis on creating one’s own content
- All reports are basically a rewriting of other sources based on keywords
- After the initial excitement and progress, students get tired of the repetitiveness
- Doesn’t prepare a student for the kind of advanced analytical and persuasive writing that will be required in the university
- Very well-organized in terms of lesson structure
- Greater emphasis on creating content, i.e. coming up with what to say (greatest strength of the curriculum, in my opinion)
- Focuses on the persuasive essay; hones in on specific types of persuasive essays in level 2
- Essays are fun to read and meaningful, because all essays answer a “should” question (e.g. Should Edmund have followed the White Witch?)
- Students in the dialectic and rhetoric stage love these assignments because they learn many different ways to argue, including learning how to refute counterarguments
- It is extremely easy to integrate LToW into your other subjects, because essay topics can be taken from any subject (history, literature, current events, etc.).
- Lessons on style (elocution) are a bit hard to keep track of. Thus, I use IEW’s stylistic techniques in conjunction with the elocution lessons to give students more user-friendly tools.
- Students have to work harder, because the assignments require more brainstorming. (This is actually a good thing, of course, and comes naturally to the student who loves to argue.)
- Less focus on research and greater focus on making one’s argument as strong as possible (at least in level 1; level 2 onward may include more research involvement)
In summary, IEW is an excellent place to start for younger students who absolutely hate writing. It helps them get over the fear of writing by giving very easy-to-follow steps and showing them fast (and good!) results. However, the curriculum plateau’s after a couple years of use. As a teacher, I start to worry at this point that students aren’t learning how to come up with their own content, since they are always choosing keywords from other sources and rewriting sentences with those keywords. At that point, I’d switch to LTOW, now that students are armed with all the stylistic techniques from IEW. It is a welcome switch, and I try to make the transition as seamless as possible by showing them how many of the stylistic techniques are just like the elocution lessons in LToW.
For older students who feel confident with words (e.g. those who love to write fiction for fun), LTOW is more interesting for them, because it provides structure while giving them the space to create what they want to say.
Hopefully, this brief overview gives you a better understanding of two of the leading writing curriculums today. I highly recommend both!