Adventures in Homeschooling – Writing Co-op

As I have mentioned before, my boys really struggle with writing, which is fairly common with those on the autism spectrum (Son #1 is officially diagnosed with Aspergers; Son #2 has many of the same traits). Several years ago, our homeschooling group held a co-op class using materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Taught by a wonderful woman who has since moved on from homeschooling to teach in a public school, the students thrived. Parents with older children who had been through the program have sung its praises for years.

Desperate, I decided to give it a try with my own children. Last spring, I purchased the Middle School Intensive Materials and figured we would give it a shot this year. In a discussion during one of our Friday morning homeschool group meetings, I mentioned this. Before I knew it, I was teaching a co-op class to 8 high-energy boys ranging in age from 11 – 13, who with a couple of notable exceptions, viewed writing with about as much relish as visiting the dentist. With the help of another brave Mom and a daily prayer for the success of this class, I nervously took on the challenge.

I’ve known most of these boys since they were in first or second grade. They are now nearly as tall as me (or taller) and have much deeper voices. They each go to the beat of his own drummer and have never really learned the art of raising one’s hand to speak. Needless to say, class was anything but dull. I tried to approach each class with my sense of humor firmly in place. We began a trial run with the original materials I had purchased. At the end of eight weeks, despite the chaos, it was obvious the kids were learning. We decided to keep going with the Middle School Continuation Course which was purchased by our homeschool group. We just finished up last Thursday.

I can definitely say that the program works. It provides a very straight-forward rule-based process for writing. Over the course of the year, we covered taking notes, outlining, fiction writing, essay writing, letter writing and critiques. There was something to be said for shared pain. These students, who never would have done this for their individual moms (my children included), were willing to do the work for a class, even though they weren’t getting a grade. I would correct their papers and give them encouragement and suggestions on ways to improve and that was it. The goal was simply to improve these middle-schoolers’ writing ability. I did adjust the course a bit for the particular audience I was facing. We skipped a couple assignments and did a lot of papers about super heroes and video games. It didn’t matter. The point was they were writing, which for some of the students was just short of miraculous. They gained some confidence in their writing abilities and will hopefully continue to improve.

In the end, we all survived – the teachers included!

Author: Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, editor of "Today's Catholic Homeschooling", is the mother of two biological sons and one adopted daughter. She is in her fifteenth year of homeschooling. She has a B.A. in History and Fine Art and a Master's Degree in Applied Theology. She is the author of "The Crash Course Guide to Catholic Homeschooling" and "The Fruits of the Mysteries of the Rosary". She blogs at