I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review this product, The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School by Sharon Watson. I used Jump In, Sharon’s writing curriculum for middle grades when my son was in eighth grade. He loved it, and I have recommended it many times to my fellow homeschoolers. Though he liked creative writing, he never liked writing instruction. Soon it became his favorite subject. Sharon has a gift for nudging uneager or perhaps unconfident writers to learn to enjoy writing. In The Power in Your Hands, she teaches high-schoolers how to write non-fiction, and if there is anything that my now sixteen year-old old son would rather not write, it is non-fiction.
The dreaded essay, the never-ending research paper, the arguments, and the persuasions, the SAT twenty minute timed prompts, and that confounded thesis. Please, he says, no more essay writing, I’ve done enough already! Yes, this year he has taken essay writing I, II, and III through an on-line writing course. Although he learned a few major points such as establishing a thesis and supporting it with five paragraphs, his joy was stripped and his self confidence deflated. His writing was ripped apart with shallow critiques, belittling comments, and near failing grades (70%) that left him discouraged and convinced he was a horrible writer.
My heart broke for my son. I pulled him out of that course and needed to repair the damage this haughty, rigid, “teacher” had done to him. Then along came The Power in Your Hands and I knew this was my chance. Sharon shares this in her introduction:
Dread will become a thing of the past, though, as your students incrementally learn formats, structures, tools, and practical proofreading know-how that will transform them into skilled, competent writers…
Indeed, the dread is dead and my son is loving this course! He was more than happy to give this curriculum a chance when he learned it was the same author who wrote Jump-In. Power in Your Hands consists of a consumable 400 page student text for $39.98, and accompanying teacher’s guide for $14.98. You’ll definitely want both. The 23 chapters/108 lessons can span a full year, or two if you go at a slower pace. The purpose of the course: prepare high schoolers for college and professional writing. It is written to the student and you can choose to have your student work through it independently, or you could adapt it to a group or co-op setting. No prerequisites required, and it is superb for the student just wading the non-fiction writing waters. Here’s my son’s own words on his experience thus far with The Power in Your Hands:
Right at the beginning, there was a checklist that gave a list of problems people might have while writing. Before this book, I was rather frustrated that no one understood why it was so hard for me to put what I was trying to say on paper. The author of this curriculum really seems to understand people, as every single one of my writing problems was on the list. I knew after completing the checklist that I was going to like this course. I’ve had some bad experiences with writing courses before, so finding a good one was a flood of relief.
I’ve had plenty of experience with writing, so everything that was taught within the first fifty pages wasn’t anything new. But once we got to the first essay assignment, things started to pick up for me. Overall, I think this writing program is useful for all high schoolers, especially those without much practice in writing non-fiction. I am really looking forward to continuing.
I plan to have him use this for the remainder of the school year, and will no doubt use it with my youngest son when he gets to high school. I have confidence that when he finishes school in June, my guy will be ready for college-level English 101. I don’t think I would have enrolled him if Sharon’s perfectly timed writing course had not come our way and gotten us through our unfortunate writing setback.
The curriculum covers in depth all aspects of non-fiction writing that a high-schooler should know: persuasion, exposition, writing letters, how-to’s, description, narration, newspaper writing, biographies, literary analysis, compare and contrast, even writing a testimony (contains some Christian based content). That’s just my abbreviated list for this review. It’s more accurate to say she covers every type of non-fiction writing you can think of, and then some.
My son is in the midst of writing a persuasive essay. I think I may join him and write my own. I’ll even give him a chance to grade my essay using the grading toolbox provided in the teacher’s guide. Percentile grades are helpful, but be sure your student is ready for them. He should know the material, had sufficient practice, and know what is expected of him. I’m not a big fan of grading certain subjects and agree with Sharon’s comment on page eleven of the teacher’s guide:
When I grade papers, I like to find something noteworthy to comment on even in the lamest paper, something true that will encourage the timid or inexperienced student…after all, we want students to keep writing. We don’t want them to shut down because of too much negative feedback too early. Don’t aim for perfection: aim for progress.
Do you fear you are unqualified to teach high-school writing and would rather hire the professionals? Warning: it could end badly. It’s not that hard to teach the mechanics of writing. What’s hard is to do it in a way that ignites passion, stirs creativity, bolsters self-confidence, and produces results. The last thing you want is for your student to hate any subject. As Robert Frost said,
There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.
Fire the teachers that kill with quail shot, and hire those who get you jumping. Sharon Watson, now she’s one that will get you soaring.
Thanks for reading my review, check out more reviews at the TOS review crew blog.