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Madsen Method: Part One Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

Sharon Madsen
Line & Precept Education Foundation
50 Maggie Hill Road
Clancy, Montana 59634

Language arts skills are perhaps the most critical skills our children can learn in our homeschools. That is not to say that math, science, and all the other excellent subjects are not important--clearly they are! But a who child cannot read, write, and speak effectively will struggle to absorb and communicate information in all subjects. As a teacher, Sharon Madsen became frustrated many years ago with the failures of available teaching methods, so she began researching and developed her own curriculum. The Madsen Method is a comprehensive language arts curriculum that seeks to prepare students in a way Madsen believes is consistent with how our founding fathers learned. The materials cover penmanship, spelling, grammar, composition, and reading skills from the earliest levels through adult. Literature study is not included, though the curriculum does encourage reading to your child. Spending approximately 35 to 55 minutes (depending on the level) each day learning the material, you could complete all four levels in six to eight years. This review covers Part One of the curriculum ($219.95 through their website - with homeschool discount), which includes five spiral notebooks of lessons, a book of Games for All Students, a Standardized Spelling and Reading Tests book, a Comprehensive Index, and a CD with the templates for Part One Forms, three CD's with training seminars, and various articles of interest. The underlying principle for the Madsen Method is the idea that our brains work best when they are able to utilize input from several avenues at the same time, which Mrs. Madsen calls full-spectrum neurological training. For example, most of the exercises involve the teacher reading a scripted sentence to the student (hearing), while illustrating the idea with a hand gesture (seeing). Then the student repeats (speaking), often with an accompanying action such as writing a word (doing). This multisensory approach is very well researched as being more effective than using only one or two senses at a time. The entire curriculum is very carefully scripted, with everything the teacher should say and how the student should respond. It even tells how the student should position himself for learning and how the teacher should introduce and teach the letter sounds. All of the materials are provided, including reproducible sheets, coloring pages, games, training materials, etc. The materials are nonconsumable, so they could easily be used over again. The curriculum was not specifically designed for homeschoolers, but it would certainly work well in a homeschool setting. The fact that the Madsen Method is completely scripted could be a pro or con depending on your style and perspective! If you are new to homeschooling and a little unsure of what to teach and how to teach, or if you are worried about "missing something," you might find it helpful to have everything prepared for you. While the curriculum encourages the teacher to adjust the wording for the individual student, it emphasizes following the program very closely. If you favor a less structured approach, you might find the program difficult to use. The course is very comprehensive and well-organized, but it would be difficult to use part of the curriculum without using the entire product as designed. For example, the Madsen Method would likely work well for a family using a classical approach but not for a family who uses unschooling, or a relaxed homeschooling approach. And it would likely work well for children just starting their language training or for older children needing remediation. You could teach several children at once if they were all on the same level and progressed at the same rate. The author asserts that most learning disabilities are really a problem of teaching, so she believes that this program works well for children with learning disabilities. While I do not necessarily agree with her premise, I think this program could work well for children with learning disabilities. I very much agree with the underlying premise of the Madsen Method--that our brains learn best when presented with information from as many senses as possible at the same time. It was this multisensory approach that initially appealed to me, and I think it is the biggest strength of the program. I also think it is helpful that Mrs. Madsen spent much time researching what actually works in teaching, as opposed to what new trends are popular at the moment. The goal is proficiency, not just finishing a workbook. This program has been extensively field-tested, although I was not able to find any information about actual research documenting its efficacy. One major drawback, in my opinion, is that the material is very complicated and inflexible. Some training materials are provided, and the company offers generous assistance by phone or email. However, I wonder if some of the very families who would find the program most helpful (i.e., beginning homeschool families with young children) might be easily overwhelmed by the exacting and complicated nature of the lessons. Another drawback is the consistent emphasis that the Madsen Method is the "only" way to properly teach language arts skills. Every curriculum touts its benefits over other methods, but I always hesitate when a product claims to be the only one that really teaches a skill; this can undermine parents' confidence. In summary, I think the Madsen Method could be a good match for homeschoolers who want a carefully scripted, very thorough program of language arts.

Product review by: Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2008