Saxon Middle School is a four-year spiral-based program. Each level contains a year’s worth of daily lessons in a student text, an answer key, and a consumable book that contains warm-ups, lesson materials, and tests. Each level kit runs around 90$. The program is designed to be done (mostly) independently, with some assistance from a parent. Optional official Saxon and third-party DVD sets that teach the lessons are available as well (See my review here).
Each lesson starts with a small handful of mental math warm-ups, a warm-up sheet of basic math facts, then progresses to the lesson, practice problems, and finally review problems to reinforce old lessons. Each lesson is designed to take an hour to an hour and a half. Every five lessons, a test is provided, and every ten lessons a special discovery lesson is scheduled. Discovery lessons encourage exploration of a topic and do not feature as much review.
I had successfully used the Saxon K-3 program for both of my boys. When my oldest ‘graduated’ from the early program, the middle school program seemed like the next logical step. While some of the format had changed, the early program was clearly written to prepare students for the middle school program. I wanted to ensure there would be no gaps, so we continued on to this program.
When we first got started, things were going well enough. My son was getting the problems correct (usually), and the program started with review to ease the students into the new format. My son wasn’t thrilled with the copious amounts of review, and frankly, neither was I, but I believed he could benefit from a little more review.
After progressing through about a third of the program, things were starting to unravel. My son couldn’t get through the material in under two hours – on a good day. He was getting very sloppy. He was missing more problems than he was getting correct. Tears were a constant fixture of math. Somehow, he was still understanding the material, he just was too bogged down to use it properly.
When we reached the halfway mark, it was clear that it wasn’t working. We had tried to reduce the workload, letting him skip review problems, and dangled rewards for correct problems, but nothing was working. He was missing so many problems and really starting to hate math. Oops.
Now, I do not place all this mess on the shoulders of Saxon. I see it more as an incompatibility. My son was diagnosed that year with ADHD, and it was clear that he needed lighter work, not two hours of lesson and review. However, Saxon isn’t totally without fault.
By far, the biggest downfall with Saxon is the review and practice drills. Doing five warm-up problems, 100 multiplication drills, ten lesson problems, and 30 review problems daily is a bit much, no? It’s rare not to see this concern mentioned on reviews of Saxon middle-school. Many parents using this program with their children allow skipping. Yes, children should be able to recite the multiplication tables without hesitation. This is a crucial skill for later math education. However, doing it until your students slump over in a math coma is hardly productive.
Also, the program achieves mastery of skills through daily practice. Student didn’t quite understand that new math idea? Well, hopefully they’ll figure it out when the review comes around. The program is not really built to encourage students to move at their own pace.
Now, Saxon isn’t all bad. The lessons are well thought out. Encouraging independence is a big bonus, not just for a busy mom, but also, to build lifetime learning skills. Also, the discovery lessons brought an almost science-lab feel to math concepts. These lessons were pretty cool, actually.
Many have used this program with great results. In schools, programs like Saxon are used to educate tens of thousands. I learned math with a program similar to Saxon. Clearly, this can’t be a worthless curriculum. However, for us, the spiral approach didn’t work. We tried, we really did, but in the end, it just wasn’t for us. We needed a more individualized program that was mastery-based, letting my son move through as he learned, not on a one-size-fits-all timeline filled with endless review.