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Institute for Excellence in Writing {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

November 11, 2012

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I have two non-readers left in the house.  I would have to say that my first grader is now not only a non-reader, but he is also a reluctant reader.  He is very much into video games and anything I can give him to do on the computer, but when it comes to actually learning to read, he has little to no interest.  Maybe this is because he has older siblings to read to and for him?  Maybe, since he’s the third child I just didn’t read to him enough to instill that desire to read?  (I hope it’s the former.)  Regardless of the reason, the boy must figure it out as it is time for him to learn.

Thankfully, Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) offered The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew their Primary Arts of Language (PAL) for Reading and Writing set.  Designed to be used together, (unless your child is already reading confidently) PAL is based on Anna Ingham’s Blended Sound-Sight System of Learning, and is built for grades Kindergarten through second grade.  It focuses on the four primary arts of language – listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  PAL Reading concentrates on comprehension, phonics, categorizing words, story sequencing, language memorization, and poetry.  The phonetic games book that comes with the reading side of PAL is printed on cardstock to make it more sturdy for use (yay, for the second child!), however, I also recommend laminating them or using contact paper to keep them nice.  If you do wish to use this program with more than one child, you will need to purchase a second copy of the phonetic farm ($19.00).   The PAL writing side focuses on printing letters, copy work, spelling, and composition.   It has an additional component of “All About Spelling” included that includes a multi-sensory approach to learning.
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When I first received this package I was excited to try something new but quite hesitant to jump right in.  I had heard so many wonderful things about Andrew Pudewa and the PAL program that I was elated to have the opportunity to try out these materials, but at the same time…it was a lot of stuff!  Stuff overwhelms me.  There was a lot to read and even a lot to watch – 2 DVD’s, one for each the writing and the reading program.  An excellent video to get a feel for this program has been created by Mr. Pudewa, I highly suggest spending a few minutes to watch.

It was confusing to me at first getting started because of this learning curve, however, the DVDs by Jill Pike were most helpful in sorting through the materials.  (It was helpful to me to watch these on fast forward on my computer as it didn’t take as long to watch them and I still was able to glean all the information.)  There are a few small things you’ll need to buy before getting started, like ink for your printer, a little index card holder, a 3-ring notebook, file folders, a small dry erase board, dry erase marker, and subject dividers, but these were easy to come by and a couple I already had at home.  There are also file folder games that need to be made prior to starting to teach your student.

I really liked that I could move at my own pace.  The program is laid out, yet flexible – I loved this!  There were so many times that my son would be having trouble with a certain section and it was ok for us to slow down and review until he could catch up.  It was also easy to take breaks during the day and come back to PAL.  Easy to pick up and put down – nice!

Our day starts with journal time.  This is a great time to focus on the mechanics of writing, give examples of how to write correctly, and model good spelling, word spacing, and punctuation.  Sometimes we write as if it were a letter, other days we just make a journal entry.  Most of the time the writing has to do with what we’re learning or something going on in our lives presently.  Other times, it has to do with Star Wars.  Since I just write down whatever my son dictates to me, we go with the flow.
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Next, we practice letters.  I use the small dry erase board for gross motor control.  My six year old still has trouble holding a pen or pencil so this is a good time to have him practice that technique, but there are no lines on the board so he doesn’t get discouraged.  We are just going for proper letter formation during this time.  There are also letter stories that I tell him about to help him remember how to make the letter and what sound the letter makes.

Next, we read.  Jill Pike includes stories in the beginning that can be read to your youngster, but really any story will work.  I have him recall the story by asking him questions about it.  Sometimes, he can relay the story to me; but most times he needs prompting through my questions.  We discuss the characters, the story’s plot, the setting, the climax of the story, and how the story ends.  I also like to use this time to remind him the role of the author and illustrator, what the title page is, and the table of contents if there is one.

Next come the games for learning and reinforcement, then stickers on the phonetic farm.  Who doesn’t love stickers?  This is a great time for review as well as adding the new stickers for the new sounds he’s learned.  Finally, there is a worksheet that I’ve printed for him to complete on his own and I verbally “test” him on the sounds he’s learned so far.

The second component to the writing program is the “All About Spelling” program I mentioned earlier.  This program by Marie Rippel focuses on spelling by using sight, sound, and touch.  It includes the following:  Letter Tiles, Magnets, a Phonogram CD-ROM that provides an easy way to learn the sounds of the basic phonograms, and twelve sturdy Divider Cards to organize your flash cards.  My son wasn’t ready for this program just yet, but we are looking forward to getting into it soon.  It teaches your child 32 phonograms, basic spelling rules, and how to hear sounds within a word.
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My cautions would be that there is a lot of parental involvement in every lesson of PAL.  You will need to be sure to set aside quiet time for you and your little one to work (about an hour total per day) as uninterrupted as possible when working with this program.  I would suggest during baby’s nap time or while the older ones are occupied with something and don’t need your attention.  Also, independent work is strongly encouraged so in the beginning phase, which we still are, you’ll need to train your child to be independent.  This didn’t go over so well for my little guy, but 30 minutes is a long time to expect him to occupy himself on schoolwork.  Secondly, I caution you that there is parental set up needed.  You will need to prepare for each lesson by printing materials and creating games.  This turned out to be a lengthy process for me, but it is required to make the study work.  I engaged my older kids in the coloring of the papers for the games, but I still had to construct them all myself and add to them as needed in each lesson.  Finally, plan to devote several hours to learning how to use the program yourself.  You will not likely just be able to sit down and begin teaching as soon as you receive your package in the mail.  There is a small learning curve that will have to mastered before you can run with it.

My opinion?  We loved PAL.  It is quite the in depth program, but there is so much to be taught and learned within this package of materials.  What started out to be a big program turned into a vast program full of learning and fun for my first grader.  He has learned so much by using PAL and I feel like we’ve only just begun.  It is a great deal for your money and is jam packed with language for your learner.  We are excited to continue using it as my son continues to become a great reader!  And, because the workbooks are printable, I still have one more child that will be able to use this program in a couple of years.  I will just be saving all the games for him!

Primary Arts of Language: Reading is available for $69.00 ($98.00 if purchased separately).  This package consists of the following:  teacher’s manual, DVD, phonetic games, and phonetic farm folders with stickers.  Primary Arts of Language:  Writing is available for $89.00 ($113 if purchased separately).  This package consists of the following:  teacher’s manual, DVD, All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit, and All About Spelling level 1 (teacher’s manual and one student packet).  It is divided into three major parts – printing, copy work, and composition.  Both packages are available from Institute for Excellence in Writing.

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DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received a complimentary copy of Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Primary Arts of Language for Reading and Writing program for the purpose of completing this review. All the opinions expressed here are my own and are offered honestly in exchange for the product. The receipt of the product in no way influenced my honest assessment.
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