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Saturday, November 10, 2012

My New PAL - Institute for Excellence in Writing

I have a new pal.  It is called, Institute for Excellence in Writing, or IEW as it is known in the homeschool world, is very well known.....and very well regarded.

But, I have a secret to tell new pal scared me.

I heard about IEW all the time from other homeschoolers.

I saw their booth at conferences.

Homeschoolers with high school kids talked about IEW.

Homeschoolers with middle school kids talked about IEW.

Even homeschoolers with elementary kids talked about IEW.

Everyone talked about it and how much they loved it.

IEW was like the popular girl in school.  The nice one.  Not the snotty one.

Who, one day, invited you to sit at her table....but you were afraid of what would happen in you accepted.  Was it a joke so she and her friends could just make fun of you?

So, every now and then I would head over to their cafeteria table, I mean, website and look around.  Get totally intimidated by content and prices (clothes and hair styles)....and leave. 

A friendship was never formed.....I was just sort of a stalker.

So, when I got a chance to review one of the IEW programs called PAL (that sounds nice and friendly, doesn't it?  I didn't exactly jump at it....but I certainly expressed an interest....and admitted that I was sort of scared too.

PAL stands for Primary Arts of Language.  There is a Reading curriculum, Writing curriculum and an All About Spelling that goes with it.  It is a really, full, comprehensive language arts program for kids.  I mean, really comprehensive.

So, first of all, take a look at what showed up in my mailbox.

Now, granted some of the stuff I got was in e-book form....but here are most of the actual hard copies of things I got.

Remember this product is called Primary Arts of Language and is intended to be used with ages K-2.  Why do you need so much stuff to teach little kids?  Had I been doing it wrong all these years?

Here is the time in the review where I confess that I got scared.  Really freaked out kind of, shaking in my boots, "Why did I even sign up for this review?" scared.

And, I did the worst possible thing I could have done at this point.  I start perusing the books.  Huge, colossal mistake.

I was scared, intimidated, it didn't make sense....I began to doubt my teaching abilities....I was going to use it for S-girl....and, I didn't know how or where to start, or what to even attempt first.

Somewhere in my browsing, I realized that there was a DVD-ROM that went along with the Reading and Writing program.  Hmmm.....probably should have started with that!

On the video was Jill Pike, the author of the PAL program for IEW, just simply sitting in front of  a gray, canvas backdrop. No fancy bells and whistles which is what I was afraid of after perusing the books.

As Jill spoke, I started relaxing, and thinking, okay.....maybe I can do this.  Ms. Pike has a very calm, relaxing demeanor about her and a soothing voice, like the nurse that talks to you right before you go into the operating feel like you are in good hands and nothing bad will happen.  (Guess what?  I just flipped over one of my books and there is a little biography about Jill.....and she was a Registered Nurse!)

Here take a little listen so you will know what I mean.  In this video clip, she is starting to explain the reading portion of PAL.

So, in case I haven't made myself clear, if you get this program, do not.....I repeat....Do Not.... open up the books and start looking through them yourself, before you listen to Jill.

So, what is the big, seemingly scary PAL program all about?

It is based on Anna Inghams Blended Sound-Sight System of Learning, which, by the way is described as "not for the faint hearted".  But, I had never heard of Anna before, so that part didn't mean anything to me.....which is good because, apparently I am faint hearted! 

I am not going into all the details of how this program works, because I will scare you away.....and I really don't want to do that.  Trust me when I say it is a lot easier to implement and teach than you think when you first see it all.  Jill explains it really well!

To put it really, really simply, it uses a combination of poetry, story telling, letter stories, and creative games and visuals to help your child learn and remember the basics about figuring out how to read and write in English.

Here is what they included as a possible daily schedule:

Our actual experience has been even shorter and snappier than this.

I read a book on communication once where it talked about trying to create word pictures in the head of the person you are talking to, because it helps them relate it to themselves and remember things better.  (I actually think it was a book on how to get your husband to really understand you....but it works in other situations too.)

In PAL, the way that they teach the letters and their sounds was one of the most successful word picture uses I have ever seen.

You know how the lower case letters b and d are often confused by young children?  Mine have all had an issue with the point where I started to wonder if they were dyslexic.  Well, for all the kids, I had taught them to make the letters with their hands....b with their left hand and d with their right hand and have them touch.....making a bed....then they could figure out if the word they were looking at had a b or a d in it.....headboard or footboard....get it?

This method has been somewhat successful.....I mean, all of my older kids can just look at b and d now and know which one it is.  For A-man and is still a work in progress....A-man only pulls out the bed still,  on occasion, but S-girl does it everytime she sees one of the letters.  She drops her pencil, makes the sign for the letter and then picks her pencil up and moves on.  Or, when she is reading aloud, she juggles holding the book while she makes the signs.....and then keeps on reading.

The PAL way of explaining letters is by giving them letter stories.

See?  b is the bomb letter....the bomb drops (the line)...and then bounces up and explodes on the right side....the circle.  And, the d is the dog letter.....his head comes first....and then his tail.

This has been so successful, I can't even tell you.  A-man who is usually around during my teaching time with S-girl has apparently been paying attention too.  S-girl was reading a story to him.  They were snuggled up in one chair together as she read. She was sounding out words as usual.  I heard her pause at one point and he said, "You know this one....that is the bomb letter."

It has stuck with them.  Even V-girl knows which one is the Happy Letter, (which is "c").

The word picture  that I sort of wished hadn't stuck with S-girl is the squealing e's....which is a word picture that whenever two e's get together, they love to squeal.  So, now whenever S-girl reads a word that has "ee" in it...she says it with a squeal in the middle.  Effective?  Yes.  Irritating?  Yup.

There are games and activities that make all of this learning really fun.

The Reading and Writing programs are separate programs, but are ideally designed to be used together.  They just have them separated in case your child already knows how to read.  They are super comprehensive and teach way more than "See Dick and Jane."

I will say that these programs are definitely teacher intensive at first, but then ease up as you kind of get in the groove.  There is a lot of prep and activities/games that need to be put together or cut out and assembled ahead of time.  Probably part of what scared me, at first.

With all the games and activities, this is another time when it would have been really helpful to have a laminator to make some of the game pieces last a bit longer.  As far as supplies go, they suggest having things like, manila folders, paper clips and index cards on hand.  I happened to have paper clips and manila folders around, but not index cards, so I just cut up some scrap paper to roughly index card size and that worked fine.

S-girl is certainly having fun with this style of learning.  She still calls in her "new school".....and asks to do it.

A few of her favorite, kind of odd, things about PAL, are getting to write with a pen, not a pencil...and just cross out mistakes instead of having to erase them.  It is really kind of funny, the first few days when I handed her a pen instead of a pencil, she would get sort of a surprised look on her face and then announce to anyone who happened to walk through our side of the school room, "I get to use a pen in my new school!"  I forgot what a big deal pens are to kids!

She also likes practicing on the white board, and loves adding to the Phonetic Farm.

This where you put all the sight-sound stuff into practice. 

(The silo is where all the letter combinations that make the long o sound "ow" as in yellow and grow.)

We also got All About Spelling, Level 1, but we haven't progress enough with the PAL program to work on that yet.  But, again, this is one of those programs that is talked about a lot in the homeschool world.

So, yes, I have a new "Pal", I finally swallowed that big lump in my throat and went and sat at the popular girls table.  She wasn't mean.  Her friends didn't tease me.  She is teaching me that there is a whole different world out there.

It is going to be a good friendship.  No more stalking.

You can get the complete IEW PAL Reading package for $69; the IEW PAL Writing package for $89; and All About Spelling for $30.

IEW has award winning writing curriculums for all ages put together by Andrew Pudewa (he is famous in the homeschool world too) and his team.  You can also take a look at their "magalog" (for those who don't know what that is....which I didn't is their magazine and catalog in one!) It is worth checking out.....and try really hard not to shake in your boots.  If I can handle this stuff, so can you.

Want to know what others on the TOS Review Crew thought of PAL or how they used it differently at their house?  Take a peeeeeeeeeek.  Darn those squealing ee's.

Disclaimer: I received the complete PAL Reading and Writing programs and All About Spelling for free, in exchange for an honest review.