“A Remarkable Leap Forward”: Tutor Testimonial from Sherry Grubbs

Oct 28, 2019 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


        It has been a tremendous blessing to have discovered IEW early on in my homeschooling journey. With over twenty-one years in the trenches so far, I am still homeschooling my youngest three children, while my oldest two children have moved on to careers which are heavily dependent on writing and speaking skills. Currently, as an accredited instructor at the Certified Level, I also tutor online and teach IEW writing, literature, and grammar in a co-op setting. Over the years I have worked with some students facing special learning challenges for whom IEW methods have proven remarkably successful.

        The Structure and Style writing method provides practical models, clear expectations, and as much help as needed to guide a student to success. Critically, an essential art such as written expression is not best developed independently from day one. Rather, we come alongside the student to help her navigate reasoning, decision-making, and self-expression until she can confidently and competently wield her own voice as a writer.

        For tutoring a middle school student who was new to IEW, I chose to use Fix It! Book 1 and Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Although this dyslexic student was fully remediated in reading, he was starting from the beginning with composition. There was no evidence of having used an outline for his writing, and he crafted simple run-on sentences for the majority of his essays. While he occasionally inserted some stylistic techniques, none had been mastered.

        Because I chose to begin by removing the mechanical task of typing or handwriting from thought creation, I scribed for him as we worked together to create the key word outlines and as he dictated his paragraphs. When the task of creation became easier, I transitioned to taking turns typing.

        Additionally I encourage my students to take full advantage of helpful technology and promote developing new tech skills apart from content creation. Fix It stories provide an excellent opportunity to practice handwriting, typing, or using other technological aids which can later be incorporated into writing time. While one of my high school students prefers to use speech to text software, another in middle school finds the lack of visual clues for errors to be a crippling frustration. Choose tools that fit.

        Separating the task of writing into smaller, manageable chunks is an essential key to the success of students who often struggle with intricately detailed tasks. One of my students recognized that a personal narrative assignment from another teacher was similar to an assignment he had previously completed for me. He asked me to help. He struggled to understand how to approach the assignment. Craving clear expectations and organization that made sense to him, he needed a format that was not as visually overwhelming to him. Structure and Style works for the way he thinks. Instead of using a webbing brainstorming method, which was a confusing stumbling block to him, we implemented the IEW Unit 3 model that he was already comfortable with. Adding an introduction and conclusion to the Unit 3 story sequence model produced a beautifully crafted story, achieving all the required elements on the checklist and a grade of one hundred percent on the essay.

        This process was a victory for another reason as well. After we had created the KWO of the body paragraphs together, he successfully and independently produced a rough draft of three body paragraphs. Proudly he reported it only took him an hour and a half. Compared to his performance just two months before, this demonstrated a remarkable leap forward in focus and output. For a student with executive functioning challenges, ADHD, and dyslexia, this was a tremendous milestone in focus and accomplishment! Certainly, I guided him in crafting the KWO, edited the rough draft for publishing, and talked through the choices he needed to make. As Andrew Pudewa says, “You cannot help too much.”

        Struggling students long to succeed and are eager to find their way; however, they may begin Structure and Style while still feeling burdened by past discouragement. Changing this dynamic of defeat is my first focus. Since the student I mentioned began to experience a positive feedback loop, he has achieved the best grades he has ever received while not missing any assignments in any of his classes. Most importantly, he has consistently loved the end product of his writing efforts, so his self-esteem has been profoundly transformed while he has remained motivated to continue working diligently. For the first time, he has set a goal of being on the honor roll. His vision for himself has been remade!

        Tutors provide critical support and direction. While we would never put a student behind the wheel of a car without instruction and expect her to learn to drive safely all on her own, some standard writing assignments expect students to be able to write without proper guidance. The clear structural models, checklists, resource tools, modeling, feedback, and time spent developing thinking skills that IEW’s system synthesizes succeed in developing writers’ voices with students of varying abilities, at whatever stages of development their brains are navigating, and it adjusts to their personalized pace.

        When we apply IEW’s method along with time and encouragement, we ride alongside the new driver for a time. We are not meant to be silent. Instead, as a calm, watchful advisor we help the driver develop the skills she must have to navigate safely, regardless of where she chooses to travel in the future. Having taken such care, we will produce capable, independent writers who find their own voices and open doors to futures that cannot exist without the essential skill of self-expression. Make room for the unique perspectives and talents of these special students. Listen to them and look beyond. Play to their strengths, focusing on their incredible gifts and compassionate, profound insights. They will astound you!

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