### Saxon Math is not for everyone

(Updated in 2018)

People sometimes ask me of my opinion or review of Saxon math. What I've written here applies in particular to Saxon Math's high school courses and middle grade levels. (The grades K-3 are by a different author and are quite different; more on that below.)

Saxon Math uses an "incremental approach" where math concepts are studied in little pieces over several lessons, and those lessons are strawed over a long period of time, intermixed with lessons about other topics.

In other words, if one lesson is on some particular topic (say, percentages or inequalities), it's almost guaranteed that

Saxon's method also includes a feature where after a lesson is taught, there are

This PDF file contains three entire lessons from Saxon Algebra 1 so you can see for yourself how each lesson mostly has exercises about OTHER topics.

This type of arrangement helps students to MEMORIZE the content, since they get to practice any particular topic for quite a few days (though just a few problems per day). The downside is, it encourages many students to simply use

The instruction in the lessons seems adequate as do the exercises and problems; I don't see big problems there. And I know many people like Saxon Math and many students have done well with it. It's possible to learn math well using Saxon Math, no doubt about it. But Saxon math can also be be disastrous. Personally I would rather see some sort of middle ground between constant review and the need to focus on new concepts.

If you do use Saxon, and notice that it's starting to turn your child against math as a subject, please consider other options. Also check that the child is not simply using rote memorization to get through, but that he/she does gain understanding of the CONCEPTS also.

The early levels aren't written by John Saxon but by Nancy Larson. She believes in conversation between the parent and the child, and that shows in the materials. The early courses are fully scripted, which I know some parents like and some don't. The suggested conversations seem good overall. Manipulatives are emphasized, which often is very good, but not all children need a lot of them. And in the early grade levels, the very tight spiraling works better than later on, so it's much less likely that the early grade levels of Saxon Math (K-3) would cause a child to start hating math because of the curriculum. Those levels of Saxon can work perfectly fine (depending on the child).

The middle grade levels are written by John Saxon and Stephen Hake. Here is where the

I feel that homeschooling parents need to be aware that Saxon is not necessarily the "gold standard." It works for some children, and not for others, like all the other curricula out there... but over the years I've gotten the impression that for some reason (maybe because of its popularity), many parents, especially those starting to home school, tend to think of Saxon a bit higher than necessary. They just automatically choose Saxon because "

So, I'd like to bring some awareness to the potential pitfalls of Saxon Math from 4th grade onward, and the main potential problem is the tight spiraling. The instruction is good and the exercises/activities are good but the organization of the materials can cause trouble.

But no matter what curriculum you use, remember that the TEACHER (you) is the most important part of the whole experience! You can try to adapt the curriculum, such as do less problems or use it in a different order than the table of contents indicates (though with Saxon that would be challenging). The TEACHER is what can make the biggest difference in how and what the student learns. Don't be a slave to any curriculum, not to Math Mammoth either!

I'm not the only one who feels critical of Saxon Math's approach. I've read plenty of other opinions along the same lines... here are two I found on Amazon:

"

"

Read how professor Hung-Hsi Wu has worded it (emphases and the additional note are mine):

See also reviews of Saxon math left at HomeschoolMath.net.

People sometimes ask me of my opinion or review of Saxon math. What I've written here applies in particular to Saxon Math's high school courses and middle grade levels. (The grades K-3 are by a different author and are quite different; more on that below.)

Saxon Math uses an "incremental approach" where math concepts are studied in little pieces over several lessons, and those lessons are strawed over a long period of time, intermixed with lessons about other topics.

In other words, if one lesson is on some particular topic (say, percentages or inequalities), it's almost guaranteed that

**the NEXT lesson is NOT on that topic**. It jumps around from topic to topic constantly, and this is by design.Saxon's method also includes a feature where after a lesson is taught, there are

__very few practice problems__about the topic of the lesson. Most of the problems are mixed review problems, and they practice concepts from earlier lessons, not the concept or skill of the lesson.This PDF file contains three entire lessons from Saxon Algebra 1 so you can see for yourself how each lesson mostly has exercises about OTHER topics.

This type of arrangement helps students to MEMORIZE the content, since they get to practice any particular topic for quite a few days (though just a few problems per day). The downside is, it encourages many students to simply use

**rote memorization**, and it does not guarantee__nor promote conceptual understanding__. Also, this approach can be very confusing to some students, and worse yet, turns some of them to math haters.The instruction in the lessons seems adequate as do the exercises and problems; I don't see big problems there. And I know many people like Saxon Math and many students have done well with it. It's possible to learn math well using Saxon Math, no doubt about it. But Saxon math can also be be disastrous. Personally I would rather see some sort of middle ground between constant review and the need to focus on new concepts.

If you do use Saxon, and notice that it's starting to turn your child against math as a subject, please consider other options. Also check that the child is not simply using rote memorization to get through, but that he/she does gain understanding of the CONCEPTS also.

The early levels aren't written by John Saxon but by Nancy Larson. She believes in conversation between the parent and the child, and that shows in the materials. The early courses are fully scripted, which I know some parents like and some don't. The suggested conversations seem good overall. Manipulatives are emphasized, which often is very good, but not all children need a lot of them. And in the early grade levels, the very tight spiraling works better than later on, so it's much less likely that the early grade levels of Saxon Math (K-3) would cause a child to start hating math because of the curriculum. Those levels of Saxon can work perfectly fine (depending on the child).

The middle grade levels are written by John Saxon and Stephen Hake. Here is where the

**t**ight spiraling can become a stumbling block.I feel that homeschooling parents need to be aware that Saxon is not necessarily the "gold standard." It works for some children, and not for others, like all the other curricula out there... but over the years I've gotten the impression that for some reason (maybe because of its popularity), many parents, especially those starting to home school, tend to think of Saxon a bit higher than necessary. They just automatically choose Saxon because "

*everyone uses it.*" So then there is more of a chance of real damage being done than with most any other math curriculum. It seems that people tend to have the mindset that it should work (even when it isn't working) since so many other people use it.So, I'd like to bring some awareness to the potential pitfalls of Saxon Math from 4th grade onward, and the main potential problem is the tight spiraling. The instruction is good and the exercises/activities are good but the organization of the materials can cause trouble.

But no matter what curriculum you use, remember that the TEACHER (you) is the most important part of the whole experience! You can try to adapt the curriculum, such as do less problems or use it in a different order than the table of contents indicates (though with Saxon that would be challenging). The TEACHER is what can make the biggest difference in how and what the student learns. Don't be a slave to any curriculum, not to Math Mammoth either!

I'm not the only one who feels critical of Saxon Math's approach. I've read plenty of other opinions along the same lines... here are two I found on Amazon:

"

*I am a math tutor, and I have to say that this Algebra book was not useful at all! The organization of the concepts is illogical, the 'progressive' methodology is confusing and the practice problems are badly conceived. The girl I tutor had already forgotten the lesson she had just learned within a few days because instead of providing enough problems to enforce the lesson taught, the creators of this book decided to review previously learned lessons for the majority of their exercises. I found myself having to re-teach lessons every day.*" (R.U. Kidding)"

*Tutoring higher math, from Algebra I through Calculus and Differential Equations, for nearly 30 years, I feel qualified to blast this book! I tried to use it with home-schooled students. They were becoming increasingly confused, so I changed their books quickly. The 'Saxon' students that I have tutored in higher level math, needed remedial tutoring in Algebra I concepts before I could move on to their current grade level subject matter. Although Saxon is quite revered among homeschoolers, I cannot see why. The topics are not clearly defined. The same concepts are repeated over and over, lesson after lesson. If one needs to look up information, they cannot be sure which section of the book to read. The flow of concepts is erratic, at best. It is, in my opinion, detrimental to homeschoolers, who are quite often very intelligent, and deserve a much clearer, more concise text, that covers more topics associated with classical Algebra I*." (Denise Sipe)Read how professor Hung-Hsi Wu has worded it (emphases and the additional note are mine):

*"But I think that what perhaps disturbs me the most about Saxon is to read through it, I myself do not get the feeling that I am reading something that when that the children use it they would even have a remotely correct impression of what mathematics is about. It is extremely*{Maria's note: this means teaching procedures such as the correct motions of the long division algorithm, or what to do to find the lowest common denominator, etc.}.**good at promoting procedural accuracy***And what David says about building everything up in small increments, that's correct, but the great pedagogy is devoted, is used, to serve only one purpose, which is to make sure that the procedures get memorized, get used correctly. And you would get the feeling that-I think of it as a logical analogy-you can see the skeleton presented with quite a bit of clarity, but you never see any methods, your never see any flesh, nothing-no connective tissue, you only see the bare stuff.*

A little bit of this is okay, but when you read through a whole volume of it really I am very, very, uneasy. There are lots of things in it that I admire, but something that is so one-sided-you think once more about yourself and you think about what happens if this thing gets adopted. There might be lots and lots of children using it. And suppose that hundreds of thousands of students are using this book and they go through four years of it. Would you be willing to face the end result? That here are hundreds of thousands of

A little bit of this is okay, but when you read through a whole volume of it really I am very, very, uneasy. There are lots of things in it that I admire, but something that is so one-sided-you think once more about yourself and you think about what happens if this thing gets adopted. There might be lots and lots of children using it. And suppose that hundreds of thousands of students are using this book and they go through four years of it. Would you be willing to face the end result? That here are hundreds of thousands of

**students thinking that mathematics is basically a collection of techniques**."See also reviews of Saxon math left at HomeschoolMath.net.

## Comments

That was an appetizer compared to the curriculum I covered at school. But a good appetizer for a gifted student. I didn't gain much depth of insight, but I got used to some techniques that I was able to expand on in my more challenging math and math team classes.

Saxon math might be useful in some ways to some people, but it's certainly not a comprehensive curriculum for students who want to pursue academic or career paths that require mathematical rigor.

RightStart math is another possibility however I'm not sure exactly how comprehensive it is.

Maria is also great at giving good advice when you start homeschooling. I just recently took my girls out of school. I have realized that my youngest daughter is now very behind in some of her Math skills. Thanks to Maria we are fast approaching getting her caught up to the sixth grade level.

A while back, I picked up third grade Saxon Math curriculum at the local Goodwill store. Comparing Saxon to Math Mammoth, I say Math Mammoth is much better for parents and students.

my youngest is 5 but will do 1st grade math in the fall, and we'll probably just go along in an easy manner, covering things without a specific text.

For high school level, I'd recommend Harold Jacobs texts or Foerster's texts. For geometry, also Geometry: A Guided Inquiry is good.

I need to note that I have not seen nearly every possible math program or text. I may find something else later that is as good (or better) than Foerster's and Jacobs.

For someone that is only capable of learning the basics of math and is not going to go on to advanced math skills, this is a great program.

Jennifer

I am no expert on ADD or what kind of math program would be the best for such children.

However, in general I feel that kids with ADD and ADHD should still be taught math from a conceptual basis.

Similarly for math facts, one would teach them as structures, tying the facts in with concepts. See my articles on math facts for this.

Additionally there are lots of other ways to help cement the facts. Software and games are the standard approach. Some people toss a ball back and forth while reciting and practicing the facts. Some post large posters on the wall. Some have kids copy them on paper... all kinds of creative ideas.

You can subscribe to the Living Math Forum yahoo group and search their archives for more.

The constant review is great at lower grades, but at the higher grades, there is already review incorporated in a

natural wayin any traditional curriculum. For example, factoring is used from elementary algebra up through Calculus II, as are signed numbers. And Saxon's fragmenting of topics just doesn't serve higher mathematics well. I have written my own extensive review of Saxon, along with our own family's experiences atIs Saxon Math The Best Choice?.

Here is the conclusion written by Beer and Wu about Saxon K-3.

"The Saxon K-3 program is an unconventional yet effective means

to meet the state standards for the early grades. There are no

textbooks for the program; rather students are supplied

individual lesson folders that contain handout sheets devoted to

drill problems, guided class practice, and homework, even in

the first grade. Occasionally, there will be some special

in-class project in the folder. These handouts contain neither

explanations nor definitiions; in essence, they are worksheets."

"Despite the unusual format which makes it difficult for the

Program to explicitly meet some of the content criteria, we are

in fact recommending it enthusiastically. This program,

thoughtfully written by Nancy Larsen, does an extraordinary job

of guiding students, anticipating pitfalls, developing

mathematical reasoning appropriate to these grades, and

automatizing computational skills. The Program not only gives a

balanced treatment of the strands, but frequently covers areas

that should have been more explicit in the standards but weren't.

The Saxon program somehow succeeds at being minimalist and at the

same time humanistic; it has something for visual/kinesthethic

learners and is not just mathematics for left-brainers."

Please be careful in what you post.

I'm going to have to teach him more math here at home so he doesn't enter 4th grade already behind. In the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division it is way behind.

I have used various math curriculum through out the years and especially with math since my girls are each unique individuals. My 12 yr old would do well with something like Math Mammoth. She understands math like this and needs to focus on one topic at a time. Saxon math is not a good fit for her as proof this year attending a private school that uses it.

My 2nd daughter needs a program like Saxon math. For a very long time I tried my darnest to stay away from it because math programs like BJU, Singapore, Math Mammoth, Calvert were said to be more 'superior'. With that said all these programs ever did was send my daughter into a fit of tears. Showing her how to find the answer to 2+2 four different ways just sent her over the wall so to speak. It sent her into overload. She never remembered what she learned and we always had to start over again. Which frustrated her even more. This year attending private school she is actually beginning to improve and is doing so much better. Saxon makes sense to her. There are just some children out there that are not ready for higher math learning at such an early age.

I know I was one of them growing up as well. Had someone gave my Saxon math I would have understood math and would have done very well. Instead the schools I went to used conceptual based programs and the thing I learned was to Hate math. Now that I am an adult I am beginning to make the connection. But I was NOT ready for it when I was a child. I just don't get it that some people need to realized that not all children are and learn the same way at the same time. Its still putting children into that nice neat box that brick and mortar schools put children in. That everyone learns the same way at the same time. Wrong. That's the beauty with homeschooling is to be able to use what works for your child at that moment in time and being able to switch when need be.

As for those you use Saxon and really like working with it being a cult. I find great offense to that. We are not a cult. Just people who are using what works for our children. If it doesn't work for you, fine. But don't compare us to cult members.

By the way my 7 and 4 yr old are excelling and doing very well with math. My 7yr old had trouble last year after using the K12 math (conceptual, and is doing better with Saxon.

So instead of bashing math programs how about finding some positives about them all.

I have used various math curriculum through out the years and especially with math since my girls are each unique individuals. My 12 yr old would do well with something like Math Mammoth. She understands math like this and needs to focus on one topic at a time. Saxon math is not a good fit for her as proof this year attending a private school that uses it.

My 2nd daughter needs a program like Saxon math. For a very long time I tried my darnest to stay away from it because math programs like BJU, Singapore, Math Mammoth, Calvert were said to be more 'superior'. With that said all these programs ever did was send my daughter into a fit of tears. Showing her how to find the answer to 2+2 four different ways just sent her over the wall so to speak. It sent her into overload. She never remembered what she learned and we always had to start over again. Which frustrated her even more. This year attending private school she is actually beginning to improve and is doing so much better. Saxon makes sense to her. There are just some children out there that are not ready for higher math learning at such an early age.

I know I was one of them growing up as well. Had someone gave my Saxon math I would have understood math and would have done very well. Instead the schools I went to used conceptual based programs and the thing I learned was to Hate math. Now that I am an adult I am beginning to make the connection. But I was NOT ready for it when I was a child. I just don't get it that some people need to realized that not all children are and learn the same way at the same time. Its still putting children into that nice neat box that brick and mortar schools put children in. That everyone learns the same way at the same time. Wrong. That's the beauty with homeschooling is to be able to use what works for your child at that moment in time and being able to switch when need be.

As for those you use Saxon and really like working with it being a cult. I find great offense to that. We are not a cult. Just people who are using what works for our children. If it doesn't work for you, fine. But don't compare us to cult members.

By the way my 7 and 4 yr old are excelling and doing very well with math. My 7yr old had trouble last year after using the K12 math (conceptual, and is doing better with Saxon.

So instead of bashing math programs how about finding some positives about them all.

1) No Montessori experience or training is required by the parent

2) Scope and sequence are provided in the curriculum

3) Lessons are scripted (so parents get used to Montessori-type language and philosophy), which also allows students to begin independent study as soon as they can read and are developmentally ready

4) Several ShillerMath manipulatives are not found in the typical Montessori classroom; several Montessori manipulatives are not found in ShillerMath (see a complete list at shillermath.com)

5) Regular diagnostic and prescriptive tests are included. A note re prescriptive tests: If a student lacks competency or closure, the lessons to support that test question are provided, and an online helper produces customized lesson plans for each student.

ShillerMath and Montessori share:

1) The desire for each student to reach his or her own individual potential

2) Students learn at their own pace (thus it is not fast or slow but just right for each student)

3) Both competency and closure are goals of education

4) Teachers are really "learning enablers"; children are natural learners

5) Mulit-sensorial approach; ShillerMath comes with an audio CD with 25 math songs and many lessons do not involved writing. Visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, and thinking-only lessons are all part of the curriculum

Kit I (ages 4-8) and Kit II (ages 9-12) each comes with Lesson Books, Answer Guides, manipulatives, audio CD, and tracking sheets.

Free phone (888-556-MATH) and email (support@shillermath.com) support comes with each kit purchase.

We have many thousands of customers and many of them write to tell us that ShillerMath has changed their lives (for the better of course!). The program is ideal for parents who do not have Montessori training but want their children to benefit from a Montessori approach.

As a freshman engineering student at Georgia Tech (a top 10 competitive engineering school) I quickly realized that I knew nothing - had nearly no conceptual understanding of anything. I literally had to learn and think during my first two years there. I did recover, but what an effort I had to put forth!

Now I am homeschooling in such a way to promote conceptual understanding at the sacrifice of completing tons of math concepts ie. depth vs. breadth. My first child has a great deal of intuition and number sense, but my second does not. We have been using Horizons with them since I have lots of mathematics "capitol" and can explain the concepts without help. However, I am going to try MM's Add and Subtract 2A as a review for my 2nd child this summer hoping to lead him through what does not appear to be intuitive to him. The poor kid can do a page of problems and get them all correct, but I can tell he really doesn't understand what is going on - change the problem a little and he's lost. He needs practice thinking instead of doing.

Thanks Maria for this new curriculum to try. It looks promising so far. I hope it will help him.