Are you looking for a rigorous language arts program for your teen? Then you need to look no further than Writer's Desk's suite of courses. Writer's Desk founder Madeleine Broder joins me today to discuss the online-based curriculum she has designed with her mother, a recently retired English teacher.
Language Arts - English
5 Writer's Desk Courses = 1 Credit
Online, cloud-based system for coursework. Novels and short-stories are consumed offline via your student's preferred method.
Courses are non-grade specific.
Parental involvement depends on the student's reading and writing levels.
Michele Holmes: Picking homeschool curriculum for your high schooler is time consuming and overwhelming. I know this because I've been doing this since the nineties. Hi, my name is Michelle Holmes and this is the high school curriculum spotlight podcast. Each episode I plan to bring you interviews with vendors who can help you provide a successful and positive high school experience for your teens at home.
So let's see how you can utilize today's vendor in your homeschool journey.
Hello, Maddie welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited that you are here. Everyone, this is Maddie Broder. She is the founder of Writer's Desk and she is here to share with her wonderful program. Hello, Maddie.
Madeleine Broder: Hi, Michelle. Thank you so much for having me.
I'm truly excited to be here and I can't wait to tell all of the students you [00:01:00] reach more about our programs and how they can help students get through high school ELA with no problems whatsoever.
Michele Holmes: Wonderful. So Maddie, as we said, it's writer's desk mm-hmm so we just, from the name, we know that this is covering the educational branch of Language Arts and in the writing area of the language arts, um, branch, could you share with us your program, but can you kind of tell us at the start, like, why did you start this business and how do you wanna help the homeschooling community?
Madeleine Broder: Sure. Okay. Well that sounds great. There's a lot to cover there. Um, so I grew up in a family that was very focused on writing and education.
My grandfather was a journalist for the Washington post, um, and my mom was a longtime English classroom teacher for middle school English. Um, so after I graduated from Yale, I did the teach for America program and [00:02:00] then I really wanted to do something that would allow me to help students a little bit more personally, it felt like there was something missing from my classroom teaching experience.
Um, and I think a lot of your, your homeschool community and your homeschool kids, you know, perhaps that's why they choose a homeschool route. They too feel that the classroom is maybe not the most personal way that they could learn. So I started tutoring students, one on one. I was helping them with their English and humanities work.
And then I fell into this really interesting niche of tutoring, helping students write their college application essays. Okay. And this was incredibly rewarding for me. We actually still offer this service, um, with my business, but we started noticing that even the most sort of prepared students, even the students coming out of the best high schools, they still felt a little bit underprepared to write their essays as successfully [00:03:00] as they could. And so when my mom retired from being a classroom teacher, this was a little bit before COVID hit, I convinced her to write this suite of English curricula with me. I said, mom, we really need to help students be more prepared to write their college application essays, more prepared as high school writers.
So this became, you know, what, what we currently have and what we're currently selling. Um, a and also it, it opened up this interesting portal for us. Well, how are high school students and middle school students learning English? And what ways could we sort of improve upon that? Um, so we took all the skills and knowledge that my mom had from her years and years of classroom teaching.
And we decided that we wanted to focus on creating courses for students that were centered around a single work of American literature each. We felt like we could really do this very personal, deep dive with [00:04:00] students focusing on just one book at a time. And then each of our courses has a capstone writing assignment that focuses on a different area of writing that they might need, whether that's the personal creative essay or the thesis essay.
And so our, our hope for students is that I know many of the, uh, English curricula or English courses that are out there, especially online maybe they're a little bit convoluted or the systems that they're managed on the online systems maybe they're not so easy to use. And so our hope was to create a really simple, friendly, easy to use system that would also allow students to really deepen their understanding of the English language of the best works of American literature and, and become better writers through doing that.
Michele Holmes: Wow, that, that's wonderful. And I just love that you're doing this with your mom .I have a couple of different businesses with my children and it gives, um, your [00:05:00] customers, the benefit to having different generations put in their experiences into your business. And so I love that.
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely. And I think one thing, you know, that's wonderful too, is that our courses because they were written by a mother daughter pair they're really designed for parents and students to enjoy together. They're easy for students to use and easy for parents to kind of tag along and join in the fun with. Um, so, so I love that you notice that, and we hope that students and parents notice that as well.
Michele Holmes: Yeah. So you mentioned American literature. So can you break down how I'm supposed to use this with my teen? So is this an online program? Is it independent? Like how is the program structured?
Madeleine Broder: Sure. So this is an online program and we are pending approval will get approval in May for our was accreditation, which means that your student can take our courses. We will be able to print a transcript for them and they can use [00:06:00] this as part of their high school or middle school credit. So we have five courses currently, in our suite of courses, and these are designed to cover an entire year of English.
So we go so deeply into each book. Our courses are very rigorous and probably much more thorough than other products that you would find out there. And, and so by purchasing sort of our five books, you should be able to guide yourself at a relatively, you know, I would say, um, a steady pace through a year of English. Now, of course, The ease with which, um, you're able to, I would say navigate the rigorness of the exercises in the course, that's going to depend on the student's Lexi level and their reading ability.
Um, but the idea is that we designed our courses to be flexible and appeal to different readers and writers. So just like almost, you know, maybe this will be a silly example, but with a chef, how, you know, [00:07:00] they, even to the best chefs they give this assignment of, can you just cook one Friday? Because it it's something that no matter what level of, of cooking you're at, you can always improve it a little.
And so we think our courses will really appeal to students, whether they're in sixth grade or all the way up to 12th grade, they can, they can really, you know, infuse all of their knowledge and, and all of the, um, sort of intellect that they've gained into these books, a and these books that we've chosen and the stories we've chosen, they're true classics.
And so anyone from, you know, a, a sixth grader to even an adult will be able to really glean some powerful messages from the text that we've chosen.
Michele Holmes: Okay. So are you saying that your, your curriculum that you have available right now would only be used for one year?
Madeleine Broder: You could use it for one year of English or you could pair it with other course, um, Offerings from different businesses. So say you're [00:08:00] taking an ELA course has been designed by a different provider, but you feel like, you know what, this year, I really wanted to read the book, the outsiders, and I really wanted to learn how to do a creative writing assignment, that book and that assignment isn't featured in the class that I chose.
You could supplement your program with just one book from our suite of courses. But the idea is if you wanted to, you could use our five courses to cover your entire year of English learning and then to decide, you know, sort of what year for parents wondering, oh, well, would this work for my seventh grader?
Would it work for my 11th grader? Again, that really depends on your students level. Um, what they're reading and, and writing level is, but we love talking with parents. We love talking with students. And so we're always open to answering questions about whether our program would be a good fit for a particular student.
Michele Holmes: So can you tell us what ELA stands?
Madeleine Broder: English language arts.
Michele Holmes: Okay. So English language arts. And so, um, [00:09:00] language arts is a huge, huge category in the educational branch mm-hmm . And so for ed, for homeschool, for homeschool parents, when they're navigating giving their kids a credit on their transcript. Mm-hmm , it's kinda gets confusing.
Like, well, aren't they supposed to do poetry? Aren't they supposed to be just doing writing and grammar. And, um, so does your program, it sounds like it's a little bit literature and writing together. Yes. It's actually two different things that you're bringing together. Yes.
Madeleine Broder: So we tried to take a very holistic and interdisciplinary approach. And so our, our courses really are robust English courses and they will cover the nitty gritty of kind of grammar and vocabulary and sentence structure and teaching you literary terms. But then you're also going to learn how to write in multiple different styles of writing if you take our entire suite of courses.
Michele Holmes: Okay, because a lot of homeschool laws [00:10:00] or graduation, high school graduation requirements, um, for each state, they usually, um, require a writing component at least for two years.
So for instance, I'm in the state of Illinois and, um, the graduation requirement here, um, is to have two years of a writing component and that writing component can be in another subject like science, but there always has to be a writing component pretty much for every single state. You don't have to write all four years, but you do need to have, at least usually, probably like a minimum, again, is up to your homeschool state laws or your graduation requirements for the state. Um, so this would get your first year of that requirement done and it would click, it would check off grammar and literature all together.
Madeleine Broder: All in one. Um, and we are going to be coming [00:11:00] out with more courses.
So for the students to sign on with us, now we are going to be continuing to fill out our library of book courses. So students will be able to take, you know, eventually up to four years of writing credits, um, with us. And even maybe beyond that. Um, obviously, you know, writer's desk, we do believe that the writing skills are really critical.
Um, I have taken really effective, um, science writing classes, myself as an undergraduate in college and, and a, a high school student. Um, but there is something particularly special about reading one story and then learning various writing components from that story. And so we find that. Students who are, are willing to kind of dive in. I know it can sometimes be a bit of a scary landscape, the world of, of reading and writing, but students who are able to dive in so deeply to a single book and then commit themselves to writing a piece about it. And we really help students in our courses [00:12:00] structure their writing. So they have multiple drafts and a rubric and an ability to edit their own work along the way, but we find that the students who really dive into that, they get a special experience out of it. There's a lot of magic in reading stories and writing about them and in storytelling, um, that that really makes the courses, I think, fly by and makes them really a lot of fun.
Michele Holmes: Yeah. And so are these courses self-paced?
Madeleine Broder: They are self-paced. Okay. And so when, as a student, when you log into our learning management system homepage, um, we use a learning management system called bench prep, and they also host some of act.Org's online courses. So it's very professional and easy to use.
But when you log in, you're able to set the date that you would like the course to end on. Oh. And then, which is great. And then within our course, we have content locking. And so essentially, as you finish certain components of the course, the later half of the course starts to unlock for you and you [00:13:00] can take it.
We wanted to make sure that students weren't gonna skip ahead and try to write their writing assignment before they were equipped with the tools to do so. Um, but so by setting the date that you'd like your course to end, the course will actually send you reminders and it will prompt you to do your work and, and finish your assignments so that you're on track with the goals that you've set for yourself.
Michele Holmes: Yeah. Well, Maddy, I love that if I'm understanding correctly, so correct me if I'm wrong. Mm-hmm but I will love that um, your coursework doesn't have a grade attached to it, like, oh, this is freshman. Oh, this is, you know, a senior work because I love that. Um, I don't have to, I can just use your course. And it sounds to me that the student will be attempting that workload at the skill level that they are. So even if they're remedial, mm-hmm , even if they need to do a lot of remedial work, they can do it a lot slower and they can
Madeleine Broder: exactly
Michele Holmes: self-pace. I love that. [00:14:00]
Madeleine Broder: Yeah, that was really I thank you because that was really one of our goals. And, and I know that something that the homeschool community is looking for is that kind of flexibility of not having to read things within a certain amount of time in a classroom setting.
Um, our courses are also great for students who would rather listen to a book on, on an audible type, um, So you can absolutely do our courses by, you know, having your book as a read to you experience. Um, so we wanted to accommodate truly all types of, of learners and, and all levels of student. I know, you know, for those of us who went through a more traditional schooling system, we've all had that experience of feeling like, wow, this book is way too challenging for me or feeling like, man, this is really easy. I'd love to be able to skip ahead. And so we purposefully didn't attach grade levels to our courses. Yeah. So that students could have that flexibility.
Michele Holmes: Well, and I think it's really important that you can read a book when you are 13 [00:15:00] and reread it when you are a senior. And get completely different things out of it. Right?
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely.
Michele Holmes: And I think sometimes in the homeschooling communities like, oh, well we already done that. Right. Instead of realizing that we're, our children are approaching the same topic, maybe two or three years with a little bit more of life behind them, a little bit more skills behind them.
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely. I, I think, you know, that was for me a, a kind of pivotal part of my journey as a learner was rereading the book to kill a Mockingbird as an adult, just for fun Uhhuh . So I had read it as a seventh grader and I, I remember at the time, you know, my parents just making sort of an offhand remark about how this was really advanced for seventh grade.
Um, and so I reread it as an. And it was really astounding to me, just the, the layers that I was able to pick up on upon rereading this book. And so we absolutely encourage our students [00:16:00] to revisit these works and, and see if you notice anything new. And then this is part of what we hope will bring parents and their students, you know, their children together in, in learning through our courses is that the parents will feel called, wow. I haven't read that book in such a long time. I I'd love to look at it again. Or even parents feeling like, wow, the writing prompts in this course are just so interesting.
I I'd love to write a personal essay about myself and just take a stab at that. You know, we live in such. Hectic fast paced world, both for students and parents being able to take a breather with a great book and have it count for, for course credit and, and, you know, having that course be a gateway to really give you a window into, you know, your heart and soul through writing. We were really looking to share that experience with other people.
Michele Holmes: That's wonderful. You did mention parents in the mm-hmm the last couple of sentences. so my question, um, what is the parent [00:17:00] involvement with your program?
Madeleine Broder: So for high paced, you know, high performing learners, those students will likely be able to go through our courses with very little parent involvement.
Um, what I love about our courses is that parents, you know, if their students are needing more support, you know, they can simply log into our, our learning management system with their student and, and our exercises are extremely clearly lay it out. And so it will be very easy for parents to follow along and help their student grow and work through the exercises and the vocabulary and the short answer questions.
Um, so there's no parent requirement per se, but we did try to design courses that would be easy for parents to help their learners with if, if their learners needed that.
Michele Holmes: Okay. So my student is reading the book, physically reading the book mm-hmm and then they log on to the program to follow the writing prompts. Are they writing right [00:18:00] onto the computer or are they writing and then scanning something and sending it to you?
Madeleine Broder: So they are writing directly into our learning management system, into a text box, text box in the computer. And what's really nice is that there's also a notes function in the learning management system.
So students can take notes on whatever. Kind of comes to their mind, whether it's about a certain chapter in the book in exercise they've done. And they're able to, you know, I know I described the content locking, um, and, and unlocking sort of feature mm-hmm , but once you've unlocked content, you can seamlessly move to and from the content that you've worked on in the course. And so it's very simple for you to go back in a course, to look at your note. You know, that's something that was really important to us because if students are going to be having success on their final writing assignment, they need to be able to go back through the course and see all the notes that they've taken. See the answers that they've given, maybe go over their vocabulary flashcards one more [00:19:00] time so that they can include some new vocabulary words in their answer to this essay. So. We really tried to make it, you know, a kind of all in all in one place, all encompassing course. So you don't have to do anything difficult technologically. Everything is right there in the learning management system.
Michele Holmes: So, you know, when a program's working really well for a homeschool, um, parent. It kind of like just happens seamlessly in the home, but , but when something isn't working, it's frustrating for the parent, it's frustrating for the kids. How do you come along and support the family when things aren't working well?
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely. So we have a lot of layers of support. I mean, we have our team at writer's desk and, and all of us are able and willing to lend support and lend a hand within 24 hours. So students will never be waiting long for support.
And what's nice too, is our learning management system bench prep, they're also an added [00:20:00] layer of support. So as anything technologically, you know, which knock on wood. It shouldn't, but potentially goes wrong. We've got two layers of support to help with that. So we're here to support with technology and content, and then we've got a backup support. Okay. In, in bench prep, um, to further technologically support students.
Michele Holmes: So you're okay with the moms who call you and go this doesn't making any sense to me. I can't explain. Absolutely.
You have, like, I can call you or I can email you?
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely. You can call us. You can email us. We are here to help and, and here to help you work through, um, whatever issues are arising as you move through our content.
Michele Holmes: Well, it sounds like you got the parent side covered
Madeleine Broder: well, so I come from the private tutoring world. And so I, you know, as much as I've worked with students, I've worked that much with parents and I know what's important to them, what they need to be solved and, and just how they need to feel supported too, because it can be really frustrating when you've [00:21:00] purchased an educational good or service mm-hmm and you feel like it's not doing what it's supposed to do. Yeah. That's the last thing we want.
Michele Holmes: Great. That sounds wonderful. Well, let's circle back just a little bit to, um, you said that there are five components to the year mm-hmm . And does each of those five components have, um, a purpose? Why, why five? Why? At least sure. Components.
Madeleine Broder: Sure. So we wanted to do a mix of our longer book courses, which could take students months to get through and, and our short story courses, which, which are just supposed to be a little bit, um, pier and a little bit faster paced.
Um, so then in terms of how we think about going about a year of English and writing learning. One thing that was really important to us was to make sure that within this kind of genre of American literature, that students were exposed to multiple different types of authors and multiple different types of protagonists.
So we tried to pick [00:22:00] authors that really covered a, a spread of story ideas that students could face. And, and we tried to pick protagonists in those stories that were of different ages and just facing different problems. We wanted to keep things interesting and varied for our students. You know, I, I remember. In college, um, or maybe even in high school, that feeling of, oh, wow. It feels like I keep reading the same thing over and over again. Right. We're switching books, but, but things aren't really getting much different. Maybe I'm just thinking of my year of, of reading Shakespeare in high school. Um, but so we wanted to make sure. That students were really, um, engaged and, and that meant putting in variation. And, and so in order to put in variation, you know, having five diverse titles was really important to us.
Michele Holmes: Okay. So they're gonna read five books within the year?
Madeleine Broder: They'll read three books and two short stories within the year.
Michele Holmes: Okay. Mm-hmm and why are you focusing on American, um, literature for this course? [00:23:00]
Madeleine Broder: You know, that's a great question. Um, it was something that my mom and I, um, when we were kind of in our very, very, um, just infant, beginning stages of developing these courses. We started with the book Of Mice and Men. We felt like it was a real classic and my mom had taught it for many years and, and we love that it's, um, you know, it, it's not the longest book, but it has so many powerful messages about human nature and friendship and, you know, love and loss. It it's a really poignant story. Um, so we started with that and it just sort of got us thinking, you know, what. You know, in, in this time when, you know, we can often feel that we're so divided in this country, can we really find something that we all love and celebrate?
And it felt like a natural. Just a natural next step. Let's do another work of American literature. And then we really started looking into [00:24:00] how, how many amazing American authors there's been. And, and we just, we couldn't stop. We felt like, okay, this is, this is our genre that we wanna cover.
Michele Holmes: Yeah. I love that. I love that it's American authors. Mm-hmm and that they're more current. Especially. Yes. Um, well, for our teens, it might not feel very current, but that they're current. And so do you think that if someone went through this program that they would be able, especially if they're older, like a junior or senior mm-hmm , would they be able to take the information that you've given them in this course? Maybe add a little bit more and be prepared to take the American literature CLEP course?
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely. I, you know, one thing I noticed before we developed these courses was that through my private tutoring work was students, I was not explicitly preparing them for the ACT or the SAT writing section, for example, but I kept having student after student come back, [00:25:00] you know, another perfect score, another perfect score on their writing, another perfect score, even when they were struggling with other areas or elements of the test.
And so I do think. Again, because of the rigorousness and the high level of our courses, we, we end up really pushing students to achieve, I think, on a level that they, they were not aware that they could and, and they become prepared to take a whole host of standardized tests or other, um, exams through working through our courses.
Michele Holmes: So, so you mentioned, so I mentioned the CLEP, but you were mentioning the AC T or S AT, which is the personal essay.
Madeleine Broder: Yes .
Michele Holmes: And, and so that's two totally different things that your kids could actually, um, be prepared for by taking your course and
Madeleine Broder: definitely.
Michele Holmes: So let's, let's focus a little bit more of the conversation on that personal essay, because sure. I, I know Maddie, you and I have talked about this before, about how it is so important for our teens to learn [00:26:00] how to have a writer's voice mm-hmm and how their personal as essay, you know, college, um, readers, the ones who are actually reading all of those. Yes. they know when it's coming from the student themselves and it's really personal mm-hmm or trained to learn how to look for signs, right?
Madeleine Broder: Yes.
Michele Holmes: It's amazing. Can you talk a little bit why you're focusing on the personal essay and why that's so beneficial for our teens?
Madeleine Broder: Sure. So I think what you mentioned, Michelle is great. There's this very concrete benefit to the personal essay, which is your college application. Um, and I think oftentimes students have truly never written a personal 650 word piece of writing before they've gotten to their college application. And now of a sudden they're arriving in a very high stake situation without that kind of preparation. So, so we've got that very practical reason that we do it.
We wanna help students get into their dream [00:27:00] colleges. Part of doing that is to practice writing that type of essay before you're actually on the diving board about to do here you're perfect 10. Um, there's another reason though, which is that we really believe that writing is such a gateway to communication and, and it's a gateway to advocating for yourself as well.
And so as we think about this kind of complex world where students have to navigate, you know, a, a very, I don't wanna say murky because I, I don't wanna be pessimistic at all. Mm-hmm but just a, an increasingly complicated terrain that is sort of the job landscape, the graduate school landscape, you know, putting your work into the world and, and being compensated for that.
One of the most beneficial things you can do to prepare yourself to be an amazing and qualified job applicant is to learn to be a writer because that will give you the tools and skills to express yourself personally, right? To write that cover letter that convinces. [00:28:00] X Y Z person that you're the right person for the job, or even to land that, you know, coffee shop chat, that's going to lead to you, meeting the right person and, and then getting hired, you know, mm-hmm, , all of those things require for you to be able to write.
And in particular, write about yourself with passion conviction style, and also just from your heart in, in a way that's really genuine.
Michele Holmes: Yeah. And so it sounds to me like a year with you, our teens would be practicing that writing about their opinions.
Madeleine Broder: Absolutely.
Michele Holmes: About literature mm-hmm mm-hmm is, is a great tool because usually in language arts programs, it's like read this book and then answer these questions. Your program's a little different than just answering a set of flashcard. Vocabulary mm-hmm answering these questions. How many, how many men were, you know, in the bus
Madeleine Broder: And we certainly, we do ask the literal [00:29:00] questions in our program. So we certainly ask students to pinpoint specifics about what they've read and that type of memorization and recall it's an important skill.
But we also wanna teach our students to be critical thinkers. Yes. And we wanna teach them to be self reflective too. And so we ask the questions that go beyond that, you know, how did you feel when this character said that. You know, what connection can you make between your life and this character's life?
How does the relationship between these two characters remind you of X thing that's happening in today's world? We really try to push the students to be able to take it a level beyond.
Michele Holmes: Yeah, those are wonderful questions. It's like I would wanna be a fly on the wall just to hear their answers. because
Madeleine Broder: absolutely.
Michele Holmes: Sometimes we don't give our teens, especially that freshman and sophomore year, or even like eighth, seventh, and eighth graders, they can read something and get some really good insight that you didn't [00:30:00] even think of because they're approaching it from their world and what, the information that they've been giving.
So I love those types of questions.
Madeleine Broder: Totally. And, and, you know, I found both in my classroom teaching work that I did right at the beginning of my career and then in my tutoring work, when you give students sort of the power of the pen and the power to just express themselves freely, they come back with the most amazing and moving and heartfelt personal ideas that that really can just floor you.
I mean, there are so many student essays that, that I've edited for students that have just moved me to tears, um, because of, of their profound insights. And, and I feel that the students who take our courses will undoubtedly uncover those types of insights in themselves, as well as they're working through the classes.
Michele Holmes: That's wonderful. Well, Maddy, we're coming up to the end of our podcast already.
Madeleine Broder: Yes. Thank you so much, Michelle. I really appreciate your [00:31:00] having me on and, and I really appreciate everyone who's listened to me talk about writer's desk and, and we're absolutely here to help students navigate their English learning journey and and to answer question.
Michele Holmes: Yeah, well, I love, um, I love the idea behind writer's desk and everything that you and your mom have put together. And I hope that this program will really meet, one of the listeners out there's needs and that you'll be able to navigate language arts, the writing component and literature together.
Madeleine Broder: We hope so too. We hope so too.
Michele Holmes: Well, thank you, maddy. Thank you for being here.
Madeleine Broder: Thank you, Michelle.
Thank you for joining me today. If today's vendor has a product or service that you think would support your homeschool journey, you can check out their links in the show notes below, or you can learn more about today's vendor and other resources in our Facebook [00:32:00] community, which you can find at facebook.com/groups/high school curriculum spotlight.
Also, if there is a specific vendor that you would like me to interview, I would love for you to D on me, on any of my socials, you can find me at homeschool directive on both Facebook and Instagram. And one last thing. If you have a friend who is also homeschooling a teen and you think they would benefit from today's podcast, would you please share it with.
Because, you know, we could all use a little help here to make our homeschooling journey stronger. Again. Thank you for joining me today until next time. Goodbye.
About the Company
Writer's Desk provides online writing courses and private tutoring services that provide students fun, engaging ways to develop English reading, writing, and speaking skills.
A family-run business, Writer's Desk utilizes the skills and educational experience of founder Madeleine Broder and her parents and sister.