Writer's Inc. 2006 Handbook
Every five years the Great Source publishing company puts all the components of its delightful and thoroughly comprehensive writing and grammar program into a big pot and stirs it up. Then they repackage it in a new edition. Some of these editions are more homeschool-friendly than others. The mid-90’s edition was good, but some of the components are no longer available. The “turn of the century” edition was problematic. However, this newest edition has come around full circle, and its components are put together in such a way that with minimal expense (the purchase of the student book) you have a strong, easy-to-use composition course. The additional components strengthen the grammar instruction, and the teacher’s book fills in around the edges.
In this edition all grade levels have been titled “Write Source.” This alone simplifies things and emphasizes what has always been true of this program – it is a very cohesive and tightly woven spiral of writing instruction. Starting in grade one and continuing through grade twelve, the writing process along with the various forms of writing are presented, illustrated, taught, utilized and expanded. Thoroughly integrated with the writing instruction is an exhaustive (but not exhausting) examination of grammar usage. Continuing in tradition, the graphical presentation is organized, energetic, and very pleasing to the eye. Although much of the content is a reworking of past, excellent material, there are some additions. Multimedia reports, email communications, planning personal websites, and up-to-date information on citing electronic sources are integrated with more traditional writing expectations. Also included at every level are sections on writing across the curriculum – for instance, how to write a science report.
Past editions were organized around student handbooks that were used for several grade levels. These handbooks have morphed into grade-specific student books. At first glance this seems like it would increase expense – “Now I need a book for each grade!” However, much of the writing assignments and samples previously found only in the teacher’s material are now included in these student books, making them valuable as a teaching/instruction vehicle rather than “only” a reference book. The step-by-step instruction coupled with very specific exercises and writing assignments means these books can be used as a stand alone course without a great deal of teacher preparation. In fact, instruction is directed to the student, which means that at the upper levels students can work somewhat independently. The Skillsbooks and Daily Language Workouts are largely unchanged and provide for both systematic (Skillsbooks) and daily (Workouts) grammar practice. The teacher’s books are "new,” and while not absolutely necessary, provide a solid core of teacher helps, organizational and planning information, integration schedules for grammar workbooks, reproducible tests, rubrics and class handouts as well as the answers to the exercises (usually grammar related), comprehension questions (related to writing samples), and tests.
It’s hard to know how much information to give concerning the scope and sequence of these courses. The writing process (prewriting, writing, revising, editing, and publishing) and how it applies to all forms of writing (narrative, expository, persuasive, response to literature, creative, research) is central to all of the courses. Although the individual writing assignments vary from grade to grade, there is a broad representation of the different forms of writing at each level. As part of the revising and editing process, there is extensive coverage of six traits of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions). Well-developed evaluation rubrics based on these traits keep students on track during writing and help them evaluate their finished pieces. There are lots of writing samples, sometimes used as illustrations, and sometimes analyzed for writing content and style. Graphic organizers are also used liberally at every level giving students powerful tools for the organization of their ideas. In addition to the central units on writing process and forms, there are sections on writing as it relates to other areas of learning – i.e. taking notes, summarizing and paraphrasing, keeping journals and learning logs, and giving speeches. Each course concludes with two sections that are part resource, part instruction and easily findable by their color-coded pages. A Writer’s Resource contains tips and guidelines to help the student complete any writing assignment creatively and effectively. The Proofreader’s Guide collects the rules for language and grammar usage interspersed with practice exercises.
The new Student Books are very user-friendly (and homeschool-friendly). I really can’t emphasize this enough. The handbooks have always been a valuable resource/reference and the 2006 edition of Writer’s INC continues that role. To give you an idea of the difference in the two books, consider that the cause/effect essay is covered in three pages in Writer’s INC - one page for outlining the step-by-step process for writing it and two pages giving an annotated sample. In the new Grade 11 Write Source Student Book, there are almost 40 pages of detailed instruction on this type of essay, which includes specific assignments completing various parts of the whole and a number of annotated samples. Each step of the writing process is carefully laid out with multiple assignments. At the revising stage the student reviews their composition in light of the six writing traits with each trait given a two-page treatment including an across-the-top rubric. The revising and editing steps alone contain 15 sub-assignments (and four exercises). In this new edition there is much less reliance on peer review (usually not very helpful) and much more emphasis on self review and evaluation (much more valuable as a skill and in terms of homeschool use). While a creative and competent homeschool parent has always been able to use the handbooks as the backbone of writing instruction, these new books are a blessing for those of us with less time, ability, or inclination. For a junior or senior high student they could be almost self-instructional, though any student will benefit from teacher/parent interaction. Although the lower levels will require more interaction, there is little teacher prep. Which brings us to the wraparound Teacher’s Editions and the pros and cons of their use. The most obvious con is their expense and the fact that the instruction is so complete in the student books. However, while these books are not absolutely necessary (in my opinion), they are valuable, and the answers to the exercises (usually grammatical information) and the comprehension questions (usually thinking skills) are only available in the teacher’s editions. The TE also includes suggested integration schedules for both the Skillsbook and the Daily Language Workout. While the DLW is used sequentially, Skillsbooks are approached by topic. Teacher helps surround the edges of the reduced copies of the student book and include learning objectives, topic definitions, and suggestions for fleshing out the student book instruction (i.e. provide newspaper articles or “suggest student select a controversial topic that will potentially effect them” – in the persuasive writing section). There are also special instructions for English language learners, struggling learners, and advanced learners. There are specific teaching instructions for each student page (particularly helpful in the lower levels). The answers, of course, are most helpful at the upper levels, but in reality, even there the answers constitute a small percentage of the material. There is helpful information in the introductions – yearly timetables, a scope and sequence, and getting started activities. There is also a large section of reproducible helps in the back of each teacher book. These include graphic organizers, grading rubrics (four-point and five-point for each of the writing forms) and benchmark papers (strong and week examples with rubric checklists and comments).
As mentioned above, the Skillsbooks for each level are largely unchanged from the previous edition. This means that the older edition Skillsbooks could be used with the newer edition Student Books (and vice versa). It would also be possible to use older teacher’s editions with newer student books, but this would require a certain degree of patience since the exercises are sometimes in different order within the books. There is also the occasional new insertion or reworking of various elements of an exercise. The Skillsbooks provide systematic grammar instruction and practice. They are strong in the basics (punctuation and parts of speech) and exceptional in their sentence work (basics, combining, and problems). These books include periodic reviews and pretests for each section. The Skillsbooks Teacher Editions are full-text answer keys and include reproducible (for one classroom) post-tests. The Daily Language Workouts provide daily editing and proofreading practice – mechanics, usage, and grammar (a sentence daily and a paragraph weekly) with answers included (facing pages). There are also daily writing practice and prompts.
Write Source K is a gentle introduction to writing and grammar. With typically colorful, high-energy graphics, the student receives an interactive overview of the writing process, the forms of writing, and the traits of good writing all the while encouraged to “try their hand” at this writing thing. Student book has instructive sequences, places to write responses and draw pictures. The Teacher edition is wrap-around with lots of extra info – standards, family connection letters, unit pacing, writing across the curriculum, lesson objectives, developmental information, presentation info for the writing lesson and writing application, as well as guidelines for differentiated instruction. There are also copy masters that duplicate the writing pages from the student book that can be used for extra practice. An alternate use of these pages allows the student to prepare first drafts keeping their student book pages for final copies thus making the student books into a writing portfolio. The Teacher Resource CD-ROM provides a pdf version of these copy masters. Student book is 96 pgs, pb.
The Write Source series is designed to be used sequentially grade by grade, and as such provides thorough instruction and review. However, because coverage is so comprehensive and because the same core of writing instruction and skills are covered and reviewed each year, any student would greatly profit from a single year’s course at any grade level or perhaps a short sequence of courses (several years – junior or senior high). These courses are from a secular publisher and target the public school market. A conservative homeschooling family might find a few of the samples (drawn from a wide variety of sources and covering a variety of topics) objectionable. ~ Janice
Please note that 2009 editions are virtually identical to '05/'06/'07 editions. We will be gradually switching to 2009 editions to ensure availability on all levels. Some items, such as Skillsbooks and Daily Language Workouts have not changed between editions.
These materials offer complete coverage of both writing and grammar.