Thursday, October 9, 2014

Essay Rock Star by Fortuigence {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Fortuigence Review

I remember the class I grumbled most about in high school -- Senior English. I also remember all the nights in college that I was thankful for that Senior English class. I may have shed a few tears over the writing assignments I wrote for Mrs. Westbrook in high school, but all that work paid off when I had the writing skills to handle the essays thrown my way in college.

One of my primary high school goals for Addison (and her two younger siblings) is to make sure that she can handle the writing assignments she'll face as a college student. Recently we added a course from Fortuigence to her language arts curriculum so that she could build important writing skills.

Fortuigence's primary offering is their Essay Rock Star course, which is divided into four mini-courses -- The Personal Statement, The Persuasive Essay, The Expository Essay, and The Textual Analysis. Each course can also be taken individually. Addison took about a month to complete Essay Rock Star Personal Statement Writing Course.

Fortuigence teaches students a five step process for writing -- brainstorming, organization, free-writing, revision, and editing. Each lesson includes a video description and written materials to explain that particular step in the process, and then the student completes an assignment to submit to the teacher. A further explanation of the class with a short video and lots of pictures can be found on the Fortuigence website.

At first I worried how this online writing course would work. I shouldn't have been concerned at all. Even when we accidentally mixed up our log-in names, our mistake was quickly and easily corrected so that Addison received credit for the assignment submitted with my name. We also wondered about the turn around time for getting her assignments graded. In every case, Addison's writing assignment was returned with suggestions for improvements within 24 hours (not including weekends).

The five step writing process taught by Fortuigence bothered Addison. In past writing classes, she learned to develop a strong thesis statement before she started writing. In this course, she didn't craft a thesis statement until the revision (fourth) step. Hence, the Fortuigence method seemed a bit backwards to her. (Not necessarily wrong, just different from the way she is used to approaching a writing assignment.)

The personal interaction with the teacher stood out the most to Addison about this class. Ms. Iatridis's comments were always positive and encouraging. It seemed like she truly wanted to read Addison's writing, not that she was simply grading papers for a class. All of the essay critiques pointed out the good aspects of her writing in addition to offering specific suggestions for improvement. For instance, she included a few questions as suggestions for details to include, such as "How long did it take to learn each piece for chorus? Why did you perform so many concerts in December?" instead of just saying that the essay needed more facts or details. After Addison submitted her final essay, Ms. Iatridis added a few suggestions about style, but also highly praised Addison's writing.

In addition to the comments directly relating to Addison's assignments, Ms. Iatridis went above and beyond when Addison asked additional questions. Since this class involved writing a personal essay, Addison asked if she could share any tips for doing an interview. (Both writing an essay about yourself and doing an interview both include the awkward feelings of not wanting to seem like you're bragging about yourself.) Ms. Iatridis not only offered a few suggestions, she also contacted someone who had recently applied to several colleges to get his recommendations to be prepared for an interview.

Addison and I were both pleased with Essay Rock Star: The Personal Statement class. Her writing improved, and she now has an excellent personal essay that could be used for college applications. More importantly in my mind, the encouragement from Ms. Iatridis gave her a hefty dose of writing confidence that will serve her well as she finishes high school and moves on to college assignments.

The Essay Rock Star classes from Fortuigence are intended for high school level students of all ability levels. According to her placement assignment, Addison started her class at a proficient writing level and improved towards mastery level. A student struggling with writing might show even greater improvements with one of these courses. If a student takes all four classes, it could count as a half-credit (one semester) of English composition on a transcript. For Addison, we're counting her single class as part of the broader English credit for this year.

Essay Rock Star is available for $197 and includes Personal Statement, Persuasive Essay, Textual Analysis, and Expository Essay. Each individual course costs $57.

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