Wednesday, April 20, 2016

{Review} Writers in Residence from Apologia

A good foundation in English language arts, specifically the ability to write well, is a fundamental need for the majority of students. Over the years since we first began homeschooling, we've used a variety of curriculum and methods to address our daughter's changing language arts and writing needs. Recently we were offered the chance to review the first volume in a new English language arts curriculum from Apologia Educational Ministries, called Writers in Residence.

Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.

Writers in Residence, written by Debra Bell, is intended to be a language arts program where the students use engaging writing as a means to learn both grammar and writing skills. The curriculum includes a huge (576 page) all-in-one student text and workbook with a separate answer key for the grammar portions of the lessons.

This first volume, titled Apprentice, is geared towards students in grades 4 through 8. There are three additional volumes, ending in Master Craftsman, slated to follow. While all volumes will all use a spiral approach, where information is expanded in each level of the curriculum, the focus of the grammar in the first volume is on parts of speech, prepositional phrases, and complements.

Volume 1 is divided into six units which include 24 modules and a final review. The units cycle through four distinct themes while building on writing mechanics in each unit:
  • Unit 1 - Remember - focuses on sentences
  • Unit 2 - Imagine - focus is creative writing
  • Unit 3 - Investigate - research writing
  • Unit 4 - Think - opinion essay
  • Unit 5 - Remember - emphasizes autobiographical writing
  • Unit 6 - Imagine - short stories
Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.
Deciding where she'd like to start; An author Spotlight, and some of Amber's work.
Writers in Residence not only provides writing prompts for the students, but includes very clear instructions and writing tips in a colorful and easy to read text.  Each unit also utilizes expert writer examples of the topic at hand. The student text includes many graphical organizers and checklists to help the student visualize their assignments and stay on track. Grammar mastery tests at the end of each module enforce the concepts learned.

Because the student text is also a workbook, there are spots to complete grammar, pre-writing, and even writing assignments right in the book. Everything is in one place and the student need not search for their brainstorming papers or grammar assignments. Writer's toolbox tips can be frequently found in the margins near a related assignment, which makes it easier for the student to remember the tip when needed.

As a fun addition, each unit includes a multi-page Spotlight, or interview, with a successful author who talks about their own writing experience and how they follow many of the ideas presented in Writers in Residence.

For teachers or parents, both the student text and the answer key provide a suggested daily schedule to help keep your student on pace to complete the course in a single school year.

Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.
Working hard on Unit 6

What did we think?

Writers in Residence is clearly, just from a quick glance, a fantastic writing program. After a deeper look, both Amber and I decided this first volume appears best suited for beginning writers in the lower portion of the 4th-8th grade age range, or for struggling writers in the upper age range. Amber, as an 8th grade / 9th grader, was a bit concerned that she was definitely far above the target range and would not enjoy Writers in Residence at all.

One of Amber's passions is writing and her goal is to become a fiction writer. The early units of Writers in Residence duplicated much of the training Amber has already completed and did not serve to entice her at all. However, the last two units peaked her interest, so I allowed her to select where she wanted to start in the text. After much mental debating, she choose to go ahead with the last unit which provides instruction for short story writing.

Amber found the grammar in unit six to all be a review, however it was not tedious so she even enjoyed those exercises. I was, honestly, just appreciative that she had found enough to keep her interested in the curriculum. So her response once she actually started working through unit six was an absolute shock to me.

Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.
She worked endless hours on her rough draft after using the module lessons to craft her characters and plot.
Amber LOVED Writers in Residence. Although the first five units were not up to her level, she found unit six to be exactly the instruction she's been wanting. In her words, "Writers in Residence gave me more guidance and pointers on how to make characters and stories better than any other curriculum we've tried." Amber was also impressed with the way Writers in Residence explained creating story arcs. She took a good deal from this unit and it shows already in her writing.

Amber was always eager and willing to go farther each school day than I asked her to complete in Writers in Residence. The short story assignment was definitely the best choice for her and she worked endlessly crafting her initial rough draft. Eventually, I did have to ask Amber to attempt the monumental task of wrapping up her rough draft to continue on through the unit. She opted to omit some details and expand on them later. However, she felt Writers in Residence opened up her writing a great deal and gave her a few golden tidbits of advice she desperately needed.

Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries.
The text is very thorough but a little unwieldy
Our only concern, which has nothing to do with the curriculum itself, is the binding of such a monstrous text. While the spiral binding makes it easier to handle than a rigid spine, the pages do not easily move. While it is a definite positive to have the text also be a workbook, the size is rather unwieldy and actually difficult to write in because of the height it sits above a desk. Since Amber was working solely in the last unit, I didn't bother with rebinding the test. Were we to have begun with the first unit, I undoubtedly would have unbound the text and rebound it by units.

Writers in Residence has been a success for my daughter, although she originally felt the level to be a bit behind her own. Thankfully the individual units, while progressive, can stand on their own if your student has sufficient knowledge and practice. We are eager to see what the next level holds!

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Visit other members of the Review Crew to read their experiences with Writers in Residence!

Apologia: Writers in Residence Review

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  1. Thank you for this review! I'm glad I found it! All the other "reviews" I could find were just pictures of the product and how it looked. I wanted to know the stuff you wrote about and took pictures of. Thank you so much! My daughter is a 6th/7th grader and I think this will be perfect for her!

  2. This was very helpful for me while looking for writing curriculum for my 7th grade son. He is definitely not advanced - or even on grade level - in this area, so I feel it will be perfect for him. I don't expect him to love it, but tolerating would be nice!