Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Write Foundation

Most of the curriculum that comes past me is either written to be used in a home school or in a formal classroom.  The Write Foundation's curriculum takes a new direction, as it was originally designed for a once a week co-op.

The author, Rebecca Celsor, states that this program and its levels "were originally written for students who struggled with and hated writing."  She feels these kids struggle because the process of writing has never been broken down for them, so they could see patterns and transitions in writing.  The author uses a variety of techniques (outlines, formal writing, logic problems, and poetry) to give the students ample practice in developing these skills.

The Write Foundation has three levels in their heavily Christian based curriculum.
Level 1: Sentence to Paragraph Writing for ages 11-13
Level 2: Paragraph Writing for ages 12-15
Level 3: Essay Writing for ages 14-17

Factors to consider when choosing a level are whether a child likes to write, how well they write, and their maturity level.  Even though Dragonette is 13, I chose the Essay Writing Level.  She is a copious fiction writer and knows the basics of non-fiction writing.

Essay level is divided into 30 lessons, ranging from outlines of paragraphs, to a research paper in MLA style, to timed essays. Poetry and logic problems (Mind Benders, sold separately) are also thrown into the mix.  I was only provided with the first 15 lessons, so I cannot give an assessment on the whole program.

Included are loose-leaf student pages, a spiral bound teacher's guide with all the answers to the student worksheets along with Teacher Presentation pages, and a cd with all of the Teacher Presentation pages that can be printed or put on an overhead.

In the spiral teacher's book, the first 19 pages discuss how to use the program.  There are suggested schedules, a syllabus, a grading system, and explanations of each component of the program and its vocabulary.  Each lesson in the book has a list for that week.   All instruction is to be covered in one day (the co-op meeting) and the assignments are then completed at home.  The book takes you page by page through the student pages, telling you how to introduce these to the students.  The last page of each lesson is a breakdown for that week.  It includes what was covered in class and what is expected to be done as homework.

I was excited to receive this program.  I have covered some formal writing with Dragonette, and hoped this program would fill in any holes and take us to a higher level of writing.   It was a hard program to wrap my mind around at first.  The introduction is very wordy, there are typographical errors throughout, and things are not always introduced in the order they are used.  By the 4th lesson, I started to understand the program and where the author was taking us.  But other than some new poetry forms, and talking about passive voice, I had already covered everything in lesson 1-15 with Dragonette.  I think we would have gotten more use out of this program if we had had the second half (lessons 16-30).  This is where the research paper and timed writing is covered, both things that we have not covered.

Because of the wordiness, the typos, and the poor paragraphs used for practicing outlines, I was ready to chuck this curriculum out the window.  At first.  But the more I sat with it, I realized that this program is really an unpolished gem.  If the program was given a serious edit, it could be a solid program to use in a co-op setting.  If it is going to marketed to be used in a single home school, it also needs to be edited for that, instead of expecting you to modify the schedule on your own.  And personally, even though I am a Christian, I found the examples used throughout the book to be extremely preachy and poorly written.  It feels that the program is not sure whether it wants to be a evangelizing tool or a writing program.  So as it stands now, the first half of this program is a vague outline of what you should cover in a beginning writing class, but you may need to be prepared to come up with different examples to illustrate your points.  Perhaps the program does improve in lessons 16-30, but since they were not provided for me to try, I cannot offer an opinion about the second half.  If the author does have the program edited, it would absolutely deserve a second look. 

If you decide to order this program there are a variety of pricing options.
Whole Program w/ lessons 1-30 (student pages, teacher book, and cd) $100 + tax and shipping
Half Program w/ either lesson 1-15 or 16-30 (student pages, teacher book, and cd) $65 + tax and shipping
Instruction Manual  $75 + tax and shipping
CD $15 + tax and shipping
Worksheets $25 + tax and shipping

And you are worried about grading writing for your student, the author is also offering a grading option.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Collector by Collectorz

No matter how digital the world becomes, books will always have a place in my life.  Kindles are cool, but I cannot imagine taking one to the beach or curling up to read one with a child.

Since I choose to stay firmly in the world of the old-fashioned book, I have to deal with the old-fashioned way of organizing books. And how many times have I been to a fill a box for $5 book sale and had to ask the old-fashioned question, "Do we own this or did we check it out from the library?"

But it gets more complicated than that.  My husband collects books.  Instead of golf clubs or season tickets, he has his own glass-fronted book shelves.  Ask him what he owns, and he'll give you a vague answer, rather than risking damage to the covers of his treasures to properly answer the question.  Throw in the task of keeping track of a voracious reader's school and pleasure reading for college applications and the chaos is enough to make anyone want to hide behind that stack of books yet to find a shelf.

So when asked to use and report back on the Book Collector Pro Edition version 7.0 by, I was excited, and hesitant, and a bit overwhelmed.

After downloading the program and playing with the sample file,  I started with my husband's books.  The age of his books range over 100 years. Editions and publishers matter.  He needs to know if it was signed or if the dust jacket was missing.  In other words, if Book Collector could handle his books, they could handle any of our books.

I started a file, read the online help, and began entering books.  Since my husband needs so much data about his books, I chose the "Add Book Automatically" feature.  I enter the ISBN, author, or title and Book Collector searches for possible matches.  I can search for one book at a time or enter a list of books into a queue and search for the whole queue at once while I go do something else.  But no matter the search, the program provided me with a list, which included data such as publisher, book cover, number of pages, hard or soft cover, and publication date.  I then used this data to choose the correct copy. If the edition I was looking for did not appear, I could manually add the information I had, instead of choosing an edition that was not quite right. Then I could add all sorts of info, including personal data (date read, purchase price, current value, and location), story info (character, plot, and genre info), and whether I owned it, wanted to acquire it, or had loaned it to someone.  And I could customize what information I wanted to be visible in the list of books I had added to this folder and how I wanted the books sorted.

Next I decided to make a reading list for Dragonette.  She has been keeping track of what she has read in a spiral notebook, but I need something spiffier for colleges.  I only need to know title, author, and when she read it.  This was sparse information compared to what Book Collector can do, so I had to rethink the best way to add books.  It was easier to pick "Add Book Manually" and use keyboard shortcuts without asking the program to search for more information.  Since the copyright and publisher did not matter, the search was overkill.  Once I entered a few books, I could go into a record, and by jumping from book to book using the keyboard shortcuts, add the date she finished the book.  This went so much faster than trying to add her books automatically.

Once I finish these lists, I may make a folder of all the books we own.  Since I am an analog person living in a digital world, this would not have been my first move.  But this is suggested for insurance purposes.  That way, if Mother Nature did come a-knockin', I would have that list (which I had placed in a safe location) for the insurance adjuster. Books do make up a lot of our assets because we have a house and a school under our roof.  Plus, it would be really cool to know how many books we own.  And I could play with Book Collector's statistics mode, and make graphs by genre or character, or see data on average and total purchase price, value, and pages.  Way cool.

Book Collector does have the option to use scanners and smart phones for adding books and keeping track of such.  I have neither, so I was not able to investigate these options. You can also add a Connect account, which allows you to publish book lists online.

Book Collector is a powerful piece of software and I can see it being utilized by small libraries.  But it can be used for simpler jobs, like Dragonette's book list.  If book collecting is not your thing, also offers software for music, movie, comic, game, mp3, and photo collections.

Book Collector is available in Standard ($24.95) and Pro ($49.95) editions.  Honestly, I don't really understand the difference between the two, because there is a lot of technical jargon used, and I couldn't begin to explain it.  Click here to go to the web page and choose the "?" beside "Standard" and look at the list yourself.  You will also find price lists for all the extra features you can add to a Standard or Pro edition for all the collectorz software.  And you can try out Book Collector to see if it is right for you with a 100 book trial by clicking this link and looking on the right side of the screen.