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Using John Saxon's Math Books Review by Kathy Gelzer

Art Reed
AJ Publishers
117 N. Washington
Enid, OK 73701-4019

Homeschool parents seem to either love or hate Saxon Math. I happen to belong to the former group, having used Saxon materials almost exclusively for math with my three children. I was, therefore, very excited to review this book, subtitled "How homeschool parents can successfully use them--and save money!" Not only did I want to get the most out of our math curriculum, but I was also curious to perhaps discover why some families disliked the Saxon curriculum or had poor experiences with it.

When I opened my package, I found a 116-page paperback book on using Saxon Math for students in grades 4 through 12. The book contains a glossary of Saxon-specific terms, followed by twelve chapters on general topics. These cover who John Saxon was, what Saxon Math is, which editions to use (especially helpful to those of us who frequent used curriculum sales and bookstores), student placement, how to use Saxon Math correctly, grading, the use of calculators, using CDs and DVDs, and helping struggling students. As you can tell from this list, the content of these chapters (the first half of the book) is very thorough. I can't begin to say how much useful information I gleaned, and I am a happy Saxon customer who thought I was using the materials properly!

The next ten chapters each cover Math 54 all the way to Advanced Mathematics, Calculus, and Physics. There is also a chapter explaining the geometry content of Saxon Math, which is integrated into all the other books. Finally, the last three chapters are about math credits, the SAT and ACT exams, and the author's bio.

A few interesting notes here: Art Reed taught high school for more than twelve years using Saxon Math curriculum. For the past nine years, he has been the curriculum advisor in the Home School Division of Saxon Publishers, for Math 76 through Calculus and Physics. The author recommends reading the first twelve chapters of the book first before delving into the chapter specific to the program you are using for your student.

This handy book is full of valuable information for the parent using Saxon Math curriculum. As Mr. Reed states in his foreword, "During the past nine years of advising and assisting home school parents about curriculum choices for their children, I noticed many of their calls to me were the result of having received inaccurate or inadequate--sometimes downright erroneous--advice. I wrote this book to answer those questions that today still confront homeschool parents using John Saxon's math books."

One thing I learned is the myth of immediate mastery. Because Saxon is simultaneously incremental and repetitive, mastery takes time. Teaching parents should not be discouraged if their students don't grasp a new concept perfectly the first day. It will be covered again in subsequent lessons, so plod on and evaluate at weekly test time.

The Student Placement tests are often misused by parents. I learned from this book that the tests are designed for placing non-Saxon students into the correct Saxon level. "A Saxon math student who takes these tests will receive false high test scores," leading parents to skip ahead in the curriculum and perhaps cause academic problems. If a student completes all the lessons in the book and achieves 80% or better on the weekly tests, he can go to the next level. This brings up another area where Saxon math is often incorrectly used. Since much of the material is purposefully review (and necessary practice) many parents choose to skip or are advised to skip some chapters, especially in the beginning of the books. Mr. Reed states that this is very ill-advised and will likely cause problems down the road.

The chapter on using the books correctly includes a list of do's: do finish the book, do all of the problems every day, do the lessons in order, do all of the tests according to schedule. There is also a corresponding list of don'ts: don't skip the first 30-35 lessons in the book, don't skip textbooks, don't skip problems in the daily assignments, and don't skip lessons. I can tell you that I was committing quite a few of these sins, some of my own volition, and some because I was told to by other well-meaning homeschool moms. After learning more about the Saxon philosophy and methodology, I now know what to do and what not to do--and why! I'm looking forward to a greater measure of success using our Saxon curriculum.

In the same chapter, there is a step-by-step approach for a Saxon math lesson. This was also very instructive and brought to light differences in what I was currently doing and what I should be doing.

In the chapter on using supplemental materials, Mr. Reed does not recommend the use of DVDs. It is his opinion that these are used by lazy students or parents who don't want to read or teach the lesson, which is primarily what the DVDs do.

The only thing I wish the author had included is a chart to help parents visualize the normal (and alternate) progression of Saxon Math curriculum per grade. This is explained in the book, but a visual would have been helpful as well.

I would heartily recommend this valuable book to anyone who is currently using or is thinking about using Saxon Math in his or her homeschool.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2007