How I Became an IEW Devotee

The ability to write clear, effective prose is a primary goal in my homeschool and in my online classes. Every approach to writing has its defenders and detractors, so how does a homeschool parent pick the best one? This is how I became an IEW devotee.

My Story

In the summer of 1997, I was sitting in a classroom, lights dimmed against the blazing summer sun, one link in a circle of English teachers studying for our master’s degrees. The professor was condemning the use of the formulaic essay.

It stifled creativity, he claimed. We weren’t trusting our students when we forced them into prescribed patterns. My peers enthusiastically agreed with him. But I, having been mentored by a pioneer of the step-by-step approach, held back.

Did I want to wade in against the rising tide?

“Just because we ask a student to write a certain type of sentence, it doesn’t automatically follow that the sentence will be a poor one,” I added eventually.

The professor paused. It was a logical comment. He reluctantly agreed.

Later, while reviewing my capstone proposal, he remarked on my strong writing skills. He wanted to know who had taught me. When I named the woman whose formulaic essay approach was dominating our county, his consternation was evident.

I admit I felt a twinge of smug satisfaction.

My Freak Out

When I became a homeschooling mom, I knew I’d teach my kids to write the same way I had been taught. No curriculum needed. This was my field.

But then the catalogs arrived. And the forum posts filled my screen. And the comments from other moms rang in my ears. Soon doubt followed.

Over the years I’ve used copywork, dabbled in the progymnasmata, instituted creative writing times, and even employed story starter dice.

The path that was so clear at the outset had instead meandered all over the English landscape.

I wandered before I became an IEW devotee
Photo by James Wheeler on

Coming Home

When I began teaching online, I found many teachers using the Style and Structure method from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. I was hesitant. I knew some homeschool parents frowned upon IEW’s strict requirements. In an ironic twist, I too was uncertain about teaching the patterns IEW dictated.

Nevertheless, I bought my first themed writing book and knew immediately my wandering was over.

Students in my Middle School English classes learn to take notes from texts and recreate those ideas on their own. They push themselves to write more complex sentences. They have help getting their ideas on the page.

The incremental approach offers profound depth in a deceptively simple package. It wasn’t a formula; it was structure. It wasn’t a prescription; it was instruction.

Is IEW for everyone? No. Do I think it’s the only way? No. But it provides a framework that allows all students to find their voice.

It feels good to be home.