Myth Busters: Tapestry’s Writing Program is Hard to Use
Once again, we were surprised when the Internet telephone game brought this message back to us because we think that our Writing program is quite straightforward. While it comes in two separate parts and offers flexibility that means parents must choose between options, we consistently hear how intuitive and effective our program is.
I’m going to start this post by letting another praise us, and not our own lips (Proverbs 27:2)! This is a recent comment on this blog left by Tina, a mom of six children who has been using Tapestry in her home for years, and leading a co-op of thirty Tapestry families as well. She wrote:
I’ve taught several writing programs and none compare with the “read, think, write” approach of Tapestry. Writing Aids is a tremendous resource. The Tapestry writing program gives structure and allows for creativity. It covers every genre. It is not formulaic. I have two girls in college who consistently produce “A” papers. Both tested out of college composition. One was asked recently to be a tutor at the college’s writing lab. The key is to have your children write consistently. They learn through practice and feedback – and I love the way the writing plans of Tapestry solidify history (or literature at the rhetoric level) concepts.
In seeking to better understand how the message about our writing program has gotten garbled, we’ve gathered feedback that has uncovered a few points of confusion among newcomers to Tapestry, or those who have only heard about Tapestry from others. Hopefully, this post will clarify some of the misconceptions!
The Philosophy Behind our Writing Program
I used to speak a lot at homeschool conventions, and my sessions on writing instruction were among the most often requested by conference organizers. I did two one-hour sessions. Session 1 set out the basic goals for any writing program. Session 2 went into how to grade writing assignments and hone essay-writing skills with older students. (Audio recordings of these sessions are available with handouts and slides today. You can find them both for sale here.)
To summarize these two sessions is to give the essential nuts and bolts of our philosophy of education with regard to the writing portion of Tapestry of Grace, and I’ll do that in just a minute. But first, some context for those who know nothing about Tapestry of Grace.
In our overarching system, Tapestry’s central purpose is to support parents who want to disciple apologists for the Christian faith. In order to be effective, our children will need to communicate clearly about their faith and the issues of the day. Our central method is that students READ deeply each week, then THINK with their mentor (parent) about what they read. This usually translates into discussion, especially in the older grades. Students then WRITE about what they’ve read and discussed. We feel that the ability to express themselves clearly and persuasively in written words is crucial for Christians in our age. In pursuit of this overarching goal, then, this last step in the weekly rhythm–the WRITE one–has several important benefits.
- Because Tapestry is an integrated curriculum, each written piece requires students to reorganize and incorporate elements of the week’s lesson contents. Sometimes the content is taken from readings and discussions of history; other weeks written pieces are related to literature studies.
- The WRITE step of our READ–THINK–WRITE rhythm requires students to slow down, to sift, to synthesize, and to arrange as a written piece their choice of facts and interpretations from what they have read about and verbally processed.
- Such reworking of the facts and interpretations of the week’s input solidifies these in the student’s mind. Because he “owns” the written piece, he remembers its elements better than if he had just passively received the input from reading or lectures.
- Doing a written piece weekly gives the student abundant practice in putting words to paper for the purpose of clear communication and self expression.
- Because teachers weekly review students’ drafts and give feedback on them (enabled by the teacher’s portion of our handbook Writing Aids) the student improves greatly over time through reworking each draft into a finished piece each week.
- We find that both the quality of the students’ internal construction of written works and the speed with which they can assemble them are sharply honed with the regular practice that our program supplies.
Now, I promised to summarize a homeschooling parent’s goals for any writing program that they undertake (including ours!). In a nutshell, over 12 years, your student should learn the following progression:
- Learn to write strong sentences.
- Learn to assemble these into well-constructed paragraphs.
- Learn to join paragraphs into various types of longer written pieces: stories, essays, biographies, book reports, speeches, etc.
That third bullet could have a couple of sub-points. Here they are:
- Learn to use transitions skillfully so that the ideas and arguments arranged as paragraphs flow well.
- Learn the normal structures that are expected in specific writing genres. (Example: one arranges paragraphs differently in a short story than in a speech, which are both different from essay structures.)
That is a summary of the first hour’s presentation that I do at conventions. (To give a fuller idea of the content of Session 1, here you can view a PDF of my slides.) Obviously, the audio provides a lot more detail. The second hour-long session would be summarized like this:
- Parents need to give their students timely, frequent feedback on their writing.
- Weekly, they should mark up their students’ first drafts.
- Weekly, they should grade the students’ final drafts.
- It’s hard to grade writing without knowing what to look for, so let’s learn to grade writing!
- Analytical essays are especially important in the high school years, especially if students are preparing for college. Let’s examine the normal structure of four kinds of analytical essays, and learn how to grade them.
Tapestry’s writing program is constructed on the idea that “drop by drop, the bucket is full.” Each week, we provide practice in specific genres using the grist of history or literature materials. If we are studying Greece, for instance, we might have younger children writing their own writing newspaper stories about the Persian Wars, middle-grade ones crafting a dialogue as part of a play based on Greek myths, and older students constructing a one-page, compare and contrast essay on the governments of Sparta and Athens. All are writing about Greece, and all are working at their level of writing expertise on the spectrum from introduction to mastery.
Reviewing the Organizational Structure
So, let’s look at the layout of the Writing portion of Tapestry of Grace, because some of the “it’s hard to use” reputation seems to come from confusion as to the physical layout.
There are two basic parts to our Writing program:
- The writing assignments, which are listed on pages 8-10 of each Tapestry of Grace week-plan
- The instruction for both students and teachers (as well as helps like grading instructions and graphic organizers), which are found in one comprehensive handbook entitled Writing Aids
The writing assignments are presented for 12 learning levels. These correspond to normative grades in school, but of course, the parent is in full control of the level chosen for each student. (In fact, we found early on that many parents have lagged in writing instruction due to a lack of confidence or ability and thus their students need to catch up. We thus used the term “level” so that students who needed to enter our program writing at a grade level or two below their general age-grade would not feel discouraged.) Generally, though, if your student would be in third grade in school, you should start by looking at Level 3 assignments for him.
The writing assignments are arranged such that the same genres are covered in each year-plan. A Level 4 student writes a series of newspaper articles (based on history topics) during the year, for instance. But, the genres are arranged within each year-plan such that it makes the most intuitive sense, given history or literature readings. So, all Level 4 students have a unit-long project of creating a “newspaper.” In Year 1, they author the Greek Gazette while studying the Greeks (Unit 3) and in Year 2, they do so in Unit 4, and it’s called the Colonial Crier. In Year 3, it’s the Civil War Times (Unit 3), and in Year 4, it’s covering the era down to our own day with a suggested title of Postmodern Times.
Furthermore, as is always the case with Tapestry of Grace, we plan with implementation in mind. If students on any level are working on the same genre, they do so simultaneously so that the teaching parent can do lesson plans once for all. So, with Newspaper Projects, all students at Level 2 (with Mom’s help), Level 4, and Level 7 join their efforts to produce the family’s newspaper. (Since newspaper articles are both fun and great exercises for learning to summarize, a student using Tapestry in all 12 years would do a unit-long newspaper project with siblings — who all write articles on different aspects of the chosen era — three different times.
Writing Aids comes in digital and printed (3-hole punch) formats. In it’s printed format, only the teacher’s notes and sample graphic organizers are offered. With these comes a CD ROM on which one finds the materials for students, and instructions for grading various kinds of student writing. Whatever the format, Writing Aids is divided into four main parts:
- Instructions to teachers on all major writing genres, called the Teacher’s Manual, that includes information on how to grade each writing genre using provided rubrics (Printed or DE Slate)
- Pre-written student notes, called “Talking Points” (on the CD ROM or DE Slate)
- An appendix with Supplements: graphic organizers, blank grading rubrics, response forms, etc. (CD ROM or DE Slate)
How Do You Use the Writing Portion of Tapestry of Grace?
As I said, it’s pretty straightforward:
- Look at the spectrum of writing assignments offered on pages 8-10 each week. Choose the ones that are right for your child.
- Look up the genres that are referenced in the assignments in Writing Aids.
- Meet 2-3 times with your student through the week. Print out any aids needed before your first meeting. (Talking Points, blank graphic organizers, grading rubrics, etc.) as indicated in the assignments.
- Once early in the week to instruct him in a genre, if a new one is being introduced, or to set the expectations for the week in an ongoing writing project (as detailed in the assignment).
- Once mid-week check in red-pencil the student’s first draft (for many families, Thursday afternoon is a good day for this, but it will depend on your schedule).
- At the end of the week, grade the final draft that the student hands in (or confirm that he got as far forward in an ongoing writing project as he was assigned to do).
As my husband likes to say, “Rinse and repeat!” Week to week, for 36 weeks per year, your student can be completing manageable chunks of writing. In the process, he’ll get better at it, faster at it, and more confident. He’ll also become equipped to express himself clearly in words. Most people who use our program successfully tell us that their kids love this method, especially because it’s integrated with everything else they’re learning in the Humanities.
Myth busted: Tapestry’s writing program is simple and straightforward to use. If you are a current Tapestry user and have questions, there are many ways to get help! Call our friendly Customer Service department, or find Facebook groups replete with veteran users and Advisors who can help you!
For Newcomers, in the near future, I plan to post more details about how to use our program by answering comments or questions on this post! So, please ask them below, and in the meantime, you can see samples of all that I’ve been describing by clicking HERE.