IEW and CM

Dear Reader,

Since I had talked about the institute in Excellence for Writing (IEW) in another post, I thought I should actually look at it  a little and form a more considered opinion rather than relying on just what others have told me about it. In particular, I was interested in whether this curriculum is Charlotte Mason-friendly or not.

Having poked around a little, reading many articles on their website and looking at some of the samples of their materials, I do have a more favorable opinion of IEW but I also think that it is not for us.

I like that IEW does not throw children out on their own and say “write something creative.” Instead they do basically what we have been doing, they have children base their compositions on good writing. The end result that an IEW lesson aims for is a retelling of the passage that has been read. This is narration, isn’t it? Narration, first oral and then written, is the backbone of Charlotte Mason’s writing program (if you can call it that). Thus far, IEW does seem CM-friendly.

I had some concerns about the kinds of passages that IEW uses in its lessons. This was based on the remarks of a friend who used the program for a while. But having looked at IEW’s online samples, I think I was led a bit astray in my opinion of it. I believe my friend substituted her own passages and that she did not choose what I would call living materials. Based on the few samples I can see online, it does look like the selections IEW uses are decent. The early ones appear to be essentially fables, something which we have found excellent for early narration exercises. My one complaint about their choices might be that they are all taken out of context. If one were really diligent, I suppose one could use selections from books that were being read already so that it would not feel so much like children are getting a piece here and a piece there.

Where it all starts falling apart for me is in the getting from point A to point B bit. Starting with examples of living materials is great. The end result being the child’s own retelling of those materials is also great. But how do we get there? In Charlotte Mason’s approach, the answer is really just “narration.” The specific steps are not laid out for the child. There is a progression in that they hopefully begin young and narrate simple passages orally (Aesop’s fables again are a wonderful place to start). Then as they grow, they begin to do periodic written narrations. But there are really no steps in between. You read, you narrate. The child is not told to make an outline (though this could be a kind of narration one teaches at some point) or to use certain kinds of words (eg. adverbs). They are not told how to find the key points in a passage because the whole point is that they should tell you what was key or important or interesting to them. There is a lot of trust in the CM approach in the child’s inherent abilities to find what is key to them, to organize their thoughts and to be able to give a coherent narration. Perhaps early efforts will not be so coherent but they more they do it, the more they learn.

In my estimation, both approaches are trying to get to the same place, but IEW does not trust in the child’s abilities as CM does. It does not assume that the child can discern what is important or that they can order their thoughts on their own. I can see that for someone who has not regularly included CM-style narration, that a program like IEW could be really beneficial. If the child has not had practice narrating what they have read, with all the many mental tasks that involves, then they may not take naturally to writing, and IEW could fill in skills that they have not had the chance to develop. But my own opinion is still that it would be better to just begin narration, even at a late date, and to take the time to build skills that way.


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