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Hi, my name is Melissa. Pour yourself a cup of tea and stay a while. I'm completely devoted to my Savior, madly in love with my husband, and joyously raising my daughters. I'm so glad you stopped by and I hope you enjoy your time here!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Writing Strands from Master Books: A Review of the Updated Material


I'm an English teacher and writer. Teaching my daughters to write at home seemed like it would be a piece of cake. Imagine my surprise when it wasn't! My background in middle-grades education left me ill-equipped to know how to teach writing in the early years. I browsed lots of curricula, but nothing felt right. It was all so complex and overwhelming to me... The ENGLISH teacher! I knew there must be something simpler available. Then I discovered the Writing Strands series through Master Books! I was hooked from the moment I opened the package. Its simple and efficient format led me to not only love it for myself, but recommend it to everyone who asks my thoughts on writing.

Rose choosing names for her the characters in the story she is writing.
I wrote my initial review in the fall of 2016. Since then Master Books has worked to revise the curriculum and republish it for their customers. WOW! The updates are incredible and only make me love the program more. We received Writing Strands: Beginning 1 and  Writing Strands Beginning 2.


 Here are some of the fabulous updates...

1. Daily Schedule - The format has been simplified even more so that it is easy to assign work each week. The original format was a little wordy. This new streamlined format and scheduling guide makes the excellent content all the more user friendly. 

2. Work-pages - Whether you purchase the traditional book or e-book format you will find that most of your student's writing can occur right on the page. This is nice for kids who need less clutter on their desks and a more defined work-space. 

3. Assessments - Writing assessments are available to the student to fill out for their own writing. Again, this was also included in the original version, but having a page ready to go is very helpful. 

4. Updated Level Breakdown - I think the new levels are a bit more understandable because they do not feel as tied to grade-level as the original books do. There is also a separate, updated teacher's edition which is helpful to parents. The following levels are currently available:  


Although these are the recommended grades, I am using Beginning 1 with my 2nd grader who was already forming simple sentences. As with all things, assess your child's ability and choose accordingly. For writers not quite yet ready for Beginnings 1, I highly recommend the original Writing Strands: Level 1. It's a great way to help your child think creatively and begin to learn about the writing process while having a ton of imaginative fun! 

5. Literature Woven is Throughout - In the previous books the literature study was a separate book which parents would read and learn about for themselves, then teach their children from that knowledge. I love that the writing and literature units are included in the new books. They are scheduled to be used on alternating weeks, but we tend to do a unit of each at the same time. There are also work-pages for this portion as well.

6. Biblical Worldview - There was nothing unbiblical in any way with the original versions, but as with all Master Books materials the company has intentionally included Scripture as a part of the studies. This is done in a lovely way which addresses character and heart issues while still fully exploring literary elements and writing prompts.  
Rose and I editing her Writing Strands assignment for the week.
 Overall Assessment
My overall assessment has not changed except that I love the program even more! My oldest and youngest are continuing to write on their own outside of scheduled school time and their writing is at a very high level. My middle daughter is more of a math-girl, and she too is excelling with the program. Because of the step-by-step nature of Writing Strands they learn about the building blocks of writing in a very meaningful way which is transferring well to other areas.

The girls were recently assessed with Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Their scores on writing blew me away and I credit it to our use of Writing Strands and reading lots of rich literature. Below are how my girls scored on the writing assessment.

My 7th grader: College
My 5th grader: 7th grade
My 2nd grader: 7th grade
  (While my middle daughter is advanced, she had some health issues this fall that put her schooling on hold for a couple of months and we'd just gotten back to pushing at our regular pace about the time she tested. Since this official test I have seen a greater jump in her writing ability once we were again using Writing Strands.)

 It is imperative for the writing lessons a child completes to apply to other areas. This curriculum is gentle and will not feel excessive, which is perfect. The current trend in public school education is to get children to write more, more, more. While there is truth in the fact that writers become more skilled in their craft the more they practice, elementary school is not the place to apply this principle! I firmly believe this course will suit everyone's writing needs no matter what ability level.

Disclaimer: I received Writing Strands Beginning 1 and 2 from New Leaf Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The opinions here are my own. I was not required to write a positive review. 

4 comments:

  1. What a great review! Do you have any suggestions on placement for children who can write sentences, but have no formal writing instruction? My children are ages 10 and 11, and are going into 5th and 6th grades. I don't want to overwhelm them, but I don't want to hold them back either. Thank you for any advice you can pass along.

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    1. I think starting in Book 1 is perfect for this age. They won't feel overwhelmed and they can always write more if they want to. They can move faster if you feel they can handle it, but you won't miss any instruction.

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  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. Your advice is truly invaluable! Although there are several reviews of Writing Strands online, your review is the only one I have found regarding the updated program through Master Books. I have been interested in this program for some time, and your review has definitely helped me. If you have time, would you mind sharing what books you used for literature? Are suggestions given for reading selections?

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    1. Thank you for your very kind words! I'm happy to chat about our literature choices. One of my favorite things! I like to use rich literature that it pretty classic, but not too difficult. So we read a lot written in the 1900s-60s. I also let them have a choice of what they read every 3-4 books. I'm not always in love with their choices because many times it is newer and just not at "rich" as I would like them to be. Still giving them that freedom is beneficial. They sometimes surprise me with wanting to try something much harder!

      Some of the things they read are The Little House Books, the Narnia Series, Gone Away Lake (2 books for that one), Half-Magic...honestly a lot of things I loved and read as a kid! I also have them systematically going through illustrated classics. I've been a little frustrated with just how much language and subjects I don't feel they are ready to have to wade through are in the original classics. I am a little bit alone in feeling like this in homeschool circles I think, but I've decided to have them read the abridged versions of things like Tom Sawyer and others for this reason. Give them a solid understanding of the storyline, but not get into the things I'm not ready to, which is mostly language and some moral issues. We deal outright with slavery, racism, and those kinds of things. I'm meaning more of man/woman relationship stuff. Just not ready for that yet!

      We don't do biographies as literature. My kids read 2 chapters from a biography every day. I let them choose whom they want to read about and leave it at that. They narrate to me what they learned when they finish each day.

      One of my favorite book lists is from Heart of Dakota. The optional book packs you can click on at this link will give you some good ideas.
      https://www.heartofdakota.com/drawn-into.php

      Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have!

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