From the Forums: Teachers Making a Difference

Oct 11, 2021 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

“We now must exhort each other; let us continue to train our students in the use of this great weaponry—the skills of written and spoken English, so that when the crises arise, we will have a force ready to wield the word of truth.” Andrew Pudewa, “What Are We Really Doing Here?”

The Structure and Style writing approach works for a wide range of students. For the student who is already a solid writer, it strengthens his skills and helps him expand in ability. For the student who has learning differences, the benefits can be just as impactful. Recently a member of the IEW forums* posted a question about a student she is working with. This particular member frequently works with students who have learning disabilities.

Here is her question, with some light editing to provide clarity and conciseness:

I have an online student who is in her last year of high school. She is doing Barton with another tutor four days a week and is on Level 7.

She is sweet, bright, always cheerful, and intuitive; however, she has many challenges, among them, the inability to physically write. She lives with constant pain. Her severe dyslexia means she is extremely reluctant to or unable to read.

I have tutored this student since March 2020. We are nearing the end of Fix It! Grammar: Level 1 Nose Tree. Needless to say, she does not do the copy work, nor does she write down the vocabulary words. She’s never been able to get the voice typing option working on her computer. We have to do a lot of review every single session. I am concerned that Level 2, Robin Hood, is going to be beyond her ability.

For writing with Structure and Style, the curriculum that she chose was Bible Heroes. We have to constantly review her dress-ups. I do all of the scribing although she has occasionally been able to do a key word outline by hand in the book. She prefers to draw pictures more than words for obvious reasons.

Her career goal is to work with children in a church or do something crafty, as she is gifted in that area. I wonder if I am doing the right thing by tutoring her. Her Barton tutor is encouraging me to keep going because she will soak in everything I’m teaching even if she cannot do anything with it right now. I need some encouragement that I’m going in the right direction and benefitting her.

Jennifer Mauser, IEW forum moderator and educational consultant, responded to the tutor:

What a precious young lady! You don’t mention her intellectual level, nor do you describe her interest and engagement in the subject of writing, so I am going to make a few assumptions, namely that her IQ is in the average range and that she enjoys her time spent with you. Okay, let’s get to it.

I believe you are benefitting her even if she physically cannot write with her own hand. Here’s the secret about Structure and Style. The writing is only the tangible product. I’ll use an iceberg for an analogy, but let’s assume in this case that this iceberg is totally benign and not going to sink ships or melt and raise the ocean level.

What we “see” in writing is the very tip of that iceberg. It’s the product (paragraphs/paper) that’s produced. But in actuality, I view this as the least important component of the process. What is way, way more important is what happens under the surface, the stuff we can’t see. And it’s massive.

The bulk of the writing “iceberg” is actually instruction in thinking skills. Rather than taking a cursory glance at the world, the work, and the relationships around us, having to write about them forces us to slow down, to consider what is being said (in the source text), and to make a series of judgments about it. At first these decisions are rather simple: Which three key words from this sentence do I want to pull out to provide me with the sentiment of that sentence so that I can reconstruct it orally and in writing at a later point?

But as we go along, the thinking becomes more sophisticated. We begin to ask ourselves questions that move beyond the surface, that compel us to ask more questions, and that later lead to our surmises. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t always easy, but writing with Structure and Style forces us to think. The key word outline is an effective tool to help us organize our thoughts and transfer them into paragraphs.

That is what you are working on with this young lady. It is fine that you are the one doing the scribing. What matters is that you are helping her to think about the source text and to practice using different vocabulary and syntax. When I visit my primary care doctor, she doesn’t write notes; she speaks them into her computer, where her words are converted from audio to text. Many people actually “write” this way these days. As far as the voice typing goes, I would have her investigate Google Docs and use the voice typing option. It’s really, really good. But back to my thoughts. You are making a difference. Persist.

Andrew Pudewa’s article “What Are We Really Doing Here?” is his apologia, his explanation of why teaching Structure and Style in writing is so important. In it he reflects on all of the correspondence he has received over the years from families, teachers, and students who have wanted to share their enthusiasm for what they are learning. Andrew writes that “the most important thing in today’s troubled world [is] how to think and how to communicate.” If you haven’t read the article, it is worth your time. He also shaped the article into a conference presentation, which you can listen to here.

If you have ever worried, questioned, or doubted that you are benefitting your students, these resources will help you regain perspective and confidence. Again, I say to persist. You are making a difference, one key word outline at a time.


* IEW’s forums are a great place to connect with other educators and parents to ask questions and offer encouragement. There are sections dedicated specifically to tutors, special education, schools, high school, and more. If you aren’t yet a member, apply to join today. We’d love to have you participate!

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