Writing With Skill, Level 1: Student Workbook (The Complete Writer) by Susan Wise Bauer
I selected this text for First Son based on the success we had with the Writing with Ease series (I wrote about Year One here.) and because a friend with a slightly older son had used it successfully. The Writing with Skill series is a continuation of Writing with Ease, building on the skills developed by narration, copywork, and dictation. In the first book of Writing with Skill, the student starts with the basic skills of narration and outlines. Over time, the student practices skills like incorporating descriptive words, understanding metaphors or similes, and transforming indirect objects into prepositional phrases (and vice versa).
For each day, the student reads through the lesson in the book, practicing skills along the way. Some of the exercises are designed to be done right in the book. These we did orally. Most of the others are done in a writing notebook. The text recommends using a computer, so First Son had a few documents in GoogleDocs.
The excerpts used in nearly every lesson were interesting and at an appropriate level for First Son in fifth grade. His reading level is probably a little above average for fifth grade, but his interest level in anything "school" is low. He found most of the readings accessible, only needing help in understanding a few of them. More importantly (for him), most of the readings intrigued him so he was encouraged to keep reading.
The Instructor Text is a separate book, just as large as the student text. It does not contain most of the excerpts, but does include all of the student text instructions. I found it invaluable when working with First Son. It provides examples and potential answers (many exercises have more than one correct answer) as well as helpful questions to ask the student to guide him or her through exercises found difficult.
For a student willing and able to read a text and work independently on writing, this book is an excellent choice. I would have loved it as a student myself.
For First Son, however, who had no interest in learning to write and even less in reading a text book on learning to write, it was nearly a disaster. He struggled with simple requests and then would quickly become frustrated when I tried to work with him. He neglected to read the directions carefully and would become angry when I pointed out that he had either not done part of the lesson or had done it incorrectly. Many of the finer points never showed up in his writing until I specifically asked him to rewrite part of the lesson to incorporate something he had "learned" previously.
I'm still considering my options for next year, but it will not be Writing with Skill. There was simply too much frustration on both sides. I think I need something more formal than simply written narrations to help guide him to better writing, but I'm not sure how much time I want to devote to it.