Take this preliminary review with a particular grain of salt, for I am an English teacher who unabashedly embraces "The Well-Trained Mind" philosophy behind the Wise-Bauer/Buffington writing team. While this review is a bit premature, I am hopeful that my children will reap benefits similar to those acquired through their related Peace Hill Press grammar and history series.
SWB explains that her motivation for this book was her experience as a professor of literature and history at the prestigious College of William and Mary. Simply put, her well-educated students could not write well. She argues against the theory that one should "Give the children high-interest assignments and have them write, write, write, and revise, revise, revise." This is not how I was taught to write, but it WAS how I was taught to teach, and I, too, endured the blank and panicked students' stares produced by that philosophy.
SWB compares writing to a foreign language. The conventions must be absorbed before the non-native speaker is fluent. Says Wise-Bauer, "Imagine that you have had a year or so of conversational French...After the first year, your teacher asks you to explain the problem of evil in French...(it would be impossible) to express complicated ideas in a medium that is unfamiliar... The conventions...need to become second nature -- invisible -- so that you can concentrate on the ideas rather than the medium." Speech is natural and necessary. Writing is not. Many can, and do, get by without learning to write well.
In Writing With Ease, the elementary years are less about creative output, and more about intake and foundations. The small book is packed with week-by-week exercises (36 for each year) aimed at building one layer at a time. She covers roughly four years in a succinct 216 pages: Years One and Two: Narration, Copy work and Dictation; Years Three and Four: Putting the Steps Together. The copy work samples come primarily from fables, fairy tales, and childhood classics such as "Little House" and "Charlotte's Web". No dull prose allowed.
SWB then thoroughly describes the writing process taught through the middle and high school years, giving this homeschooling mom courage. Says Bauer, "The goal is to turn the young writer into a thoughtful student who can make use of written language, rather than struggle with it." She adds, "Good writing requires training. It demands one-on-one attention." To that I respond with a heart-felt "Amen, sister!"
I've given it four stars after I've previewed the contents, but I hope to add the fifth after the year is over.
NOTE: Some teacher preparation is required. SWB models the lessons, and then you will cull material from the student's texts and literature books. It's actually very simple to implement and takes very little time. I like to take passages from literature relating to other subjects they are already studying. My kids, second and fourth grade, respectively, love it because we are done in 5-10 minutes. SWB also gives short grammar cues for you to subtly tie in to the lesson.
MY TWO CENTS:
I am ridiculously grateful to have my hands held when it comes to teaching writing to my own kids! I used to teach grammar and composition on the middle and high school level. I left public school dismayed by the students' response to writing in general (never mind the heinous grammatical butchery -- the slaughter wrought through "texting" still haunts me to this day). They hated and feared writing. I never expected prose worthy of Faulkner, but the ability to write simply, clearly, and meaningfully was beyond most -- even the "honor roll" students were woefully inept and overwhelmed by the simplest assignments. I had 145 students x 100 assignments (there were always many who would never in a year's time complete a single writing assignment) X 36 weeks divided by the few hours I had after the 100 daily "administrative" tasks (I actually had to spend the first precious minutes of each day doing a "clothing check" for violations -- Argh!). There was little time to address the fundamentals so obviously lacking, and even less time for meaningful (and mostly ignored) editorial, instructive feedback. I'm thankful for the experience, for I might never have known the joys of homeschooling.