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Saxon Grammar and Writing 7

By Christie Curtis and Mary Hake
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, Inc.

181 Ballardvale Street
Wilmington, MA 01887

Saxon's new Grammar and Writing 7 consists of 110 incremental daily lessons, 31 writing lessons, and 21 tests. Although this is marketed as a seventh grade curriculum, there is nothing babyish or grade-specific, and the content is quite rigorous, so you might consider it for older students as well. The homeschool kit includes the student text, student workbook, and teacher packet. The student text and workbook are reusable if your student does his work in a separate notebook.

A very clear schedule in the teacher packet gives a plan to cover the entire curriculum in 141 school days. Even if the writing lessons take longer than scheduled (which I expect they will for many students), this is a reasonable goal to meet within a school year.

Each lesson begins with either a dictation assignment or a journal entry. Thirty dictation passages are provided in the back of the student text, and on the first day of a new week, the student copies one of these passages. These are mostly nonfiction paragraphs about literary terms, rules of etiquette, and study skills, but there are also four poems. The next three days, students write at least three sentences in their journals. A list of one hundred journal ideas includes prompts such as, "Imagine what you might see and hear if you sat on the beach at sunset. Describe it." On day five, students rewrite the passage they copied on day one, this time from dictation.

Each lesson also includes a short vocabulary lesson. Sometimes these lessons introduce a Greek or Latin root and some derivatives, such as the Greek prefix ortho- (straight) used in the words orthodontist, orthograde, and orthotics. In addition, similar but confusing words are studied, such as the words consul, council, and counsel. These vocabulary words are used and practiced in both the practice and review sets.

Following these "warm up" exercises, students study a new grammar concept. These lessons cover parts of speech, sentence structure, diagramming, capitalization, punctuation, spelling rules, and word usage. The format will be very familiar to those who have used Saxon math. After a new concept is explained, several examples are worked out for the student, followed by a few practice problems focusing entirely on the new material, including the new vocabulary words. Students then complete a review set, which includes thirty problems. Answers to all the practice and review problems are found in the teacher packet.

Tests follow every fifth lesson. Tests are found in the teacher packet and must be photocopied for student use. Tests are short--only twenty questions--allowing time for a writing lesson on test days, and for a day or two afterwards in some cases. Students learn how to write paragraphs and essays (descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive), as well as a research paper, a short story, summaries, and poetry. The schedule allows three days per essay or story: one day for planning, one day for writing, and one day for revising. One additional day is scheduled for the research paper. Some students may need more time to write, so be flexible. Detailed checklists teach students what to look for when revising their own papers and give parents a helpful guide for evaluating student papers. In addition to writing assignments, additional practice lessons and "slapstick stories" (like Mad Libs) are also included in the back of the student workbook.

I really like Saxon Writing and Grammar. I've used both the Rod & Staff and A Beka grammar and writing programs at this level, and Saxon's Writing and Grammar 7 is equally excellent and thorough. The difference between these three programs is mainly in their choice of subject matter. Rod & Staff, being a conservative Mennonite publisher, uses examples from their simple, rural way of life, showing more doctrinal distinctions as you move up through the grades. A Beka includes a wider variety of biblical, classical, literary, and historical references, also becoming more doctrinally distinct as you move up through the grades. Saxon, being a secular publisher, gives no preference to Christianity; however, biblical references are included, as are references to Judaism, Islam, and other world religions. Like A Beka, Saxon also uses plenty of classical, literary, and historical references.

My only criticism of this fine English program is the relatively high cost, especially given the low quality of paper, which is like newsprint. If the books were meant to be consumable, then Saxon needs to find a way to bring the cost down. If the books were not meant to be consumable, then they need to improve the quality of paper.

A potential weakness of Saxon Grammar and Writing 7, depending on your family, is the writing component. Like both Rod & Staff and A Beka, the Saxon writing lessons do not provide much support for those who are uncomfortable with teaching writing. If you need a little extra help with teaching writing, and especially if you have a reluctant writer, I highly recommend the book Writing Skills Teacher's Handbook by Diana Hanbury King (EPS Publishers) as a supplement to whatever writing program you are using.

One final positive note: for those of you who dislike Saxon math (or for those whose children dislike Saxon math), Saxon Grammar and Writing is different! My children have been known to dissolve into tears over Saxon math, but somehow it hasn't happened with Saxon Grammar and Writing. Could it be that Saxon's incremental, spiral approach is better suited to language arts than to math? I think so. I highly recommend Saxon Grammar and Writing to my fellow homeschoolers.

The table of contents and samples of all the various components of Saxon Grammar and Writing 7 are available here:

Product review by Heather Jackowitz, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, October 2009

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