If it looks like Saxon and teaches like Saxon, does that mean it is Saxon? As a matter of fact, it does. But it started out as Hake Grammar and Writing. Stephen Hake, long associated with Saxon math (since 1984), realized that the effective Saxon teaching methodology of incremental development and continual review would also produce strong language arts instruction and found authors to develop the series. The fact that the overseeing author is his wife, Mary (a former teacher and homeschool parent), suggests that there is a "rest of the story" lurking under the surface. Now the program has officially come to rest under the Saxon banner as they've assumed its publication and distribution. Grade 4 has been newly released for 2013, as well as a revised and updated 2nd edition of Grades 5-8. The 2nd edition of the program has been revised and updated to meet Common Core Standards for Language and Writing and also features several more writing lessons in each level. The 1st edition will continue to be available and we will be stocking both editions.
Taking a good look at the program, it's not hard to see the Saxon influence. The textbooks have the look of some of the Saxon texts. Turning to the table of contents, the similarity gets even stronger - there are lists of lessons rather than units or chapters. The uncluttered black and white appearance of text pages is also familiar. Don't stop here! The organizational structure of the program and its components is very Saxon-esque - carefully sequenced and incremental lessons coupled with continual review. The text is written directly to the student. Lessons include a teaching sequence with examples, related practice, and review. Tests are periodic and cumulative. Another similarity is the obvious commitment to a rigorous and thorough scope and sequence. In short, what we have here is a grammar and writing program which embodies all the strengths of the Saxon methodology; one that is user-friendly, academically rigorous, and doable - all at the same time.
In general, the scope and sequence starts with the basics - parts of speech, types of sentences, basic capitalization and punctuation, sentence and paragraph construction - and progresses systematically and structurally through the intricacies of the American language with the goal of elegant and effective writing. Skills are carefully sequenced, building one upon another, then thoroughly (some might be tempted to say exhaustively) reviewed. As we've seen with Saxon math, this type of content structuring produces competence and retention. I think there will be an added advantage applying this approach to language arts. Often the big picture of language arts is totally missed by using a workbook for vocabulary, one for spelling, another for grammar, and a totally different writing program. In Saxon (Hake) Grammar & Writing, it's possible to see how each component works together to produce an accomplished and skilled scholar. An 8th grade "graduate" of this series will have all the skills needed to tackle high school (or even college) writing assignments - which undoubtedly brings up questions about jumping in midstream or using the program with younger or older students. The 5th grade book could be used with a strong 4th grader. Likewise, the 8th grade course could be used effectively by any high school (or adult) student whose coverage of grammar and writing topics has been scattered or light or irregular and who needs a thorough review. The "jumping in" question is a little harder to address. If a student has had a fair amount of grammar/writing instruction then they could probably start at grade level in this series. There is plenty of review providing an opportunity to "re-teach" some concepts. However, if a student has had very little grammar or writing instruction, he will probably be much more comfortable starting with the 4th or 5th grade book.
The Student Textbook is a softbound grammar text that includes 100-115 grammar lessons (number varies per grade). Dictation or journal writing is a daily assignment. Students start each week by copying a dictation passage (found in the text's appendix). The expectation is that they will study the passage during the week and be prepared to write it from dictation with correct spelling and punctuation at the end of week. Students write on a journal topic for the three remaining days each week (list of topics are also found in the text appendix). This sequence is designed to take about five minutes each day. Following this process, each of the grammar lessons starts with a vocabulary segment. Lesson 41 of the 6th grade book looks at the prefix mal- along with some example usages. Lesson 84 of the 8th grade book looks at the history of the adjectives procrustean and protean. [Interesting stuff since both words trace their meaning to Greek legends or literature.] After vocabulary, the lesson's teaching sequence is next. For instance, Lesson 60 of the 8th grade book covers the use of the comma in compound sentences and direct quotations. Reviewing the definition of a compound sentence, comma placement is discussed along with mentioning that a list of seven coordinating conjunctions should have been memorized. Next comes two sets of examples. The student is to identify the coordinating conjunction in three sentences and then properly insert a comma in the next two. Answers for each are provided immediately following. The teaching sequence for commas in direct quotations includes illustrating samples before the student is asked to rewrite two example sentences inserting commas as needed. Proper solutions are clearly explained. The practice set for this lesson contains 12 sentences. Sometimes the student is only required to identify a word, sometimes to rewrite the sentences. In this set there are four questions concerning the vocabulary words. Some lessons (but not all) contain a More Practice worksheet (found in the Student Workbook). Some of the More Practice worksheets (called Silly Stories in some levels and Hysterical Fiction in others) are a Mad-Libs-type of activity. The last portion of Lesson 60 is the review set - 30 questions. These include vocabulary, usage, spelling, sentence combining and rephrasing, rewriting for correct punctuation and usage, sentence type and parts of speech identification, and others. The last two sentences are typically diagramming practice. (Diagramming is a significant portion of the instruction with several lessons in each level providing the necessary instruction.) One of the nice features of this review set is the micro-size subtexts attached to each review question. These refer back to the lesson where the concept being reviewed was introduced. This text is non-consumable, as there are no spaces purposely left for rewriting or diagramming. However, white space in general is generous and some might choose to allow students to write in the book.
The softcover Student Workbook contains the writing lessons as well as the More Practice worksheets. Lessons follow a familiar pattern - a teaching sequence coupled with analysis questions (various sample passages are analyzed), some examples to work with solutions, and practice and review exercises. These exercises include writing assignments, analysis exercises, and sentence rewriting. Although starting with sentence and paragraph construction, the lessons sequence into essays, the various forms of writing, and the writing process. Both creative and academic writing are covered in all levels with an increasing emphasis on research writing as the grades progress. Self-evaluation forms are included for each writing assignment. The student is encouraged to prepare and keep a binder with journal entries and writing assignments.
The Teacher Packet includes a short message to the teacher (how-tos), a complete set of answer keys (for the textbook practice and review sets, writing lessons, tests, and more practice worksheets), and test masters. The suggested class schedule for each course is a test after five grammar lessons (starting with the tenth lesson). Students also complete a writing lesson on test days. Sometimes writing lessons are grouped to allow a specific skill set to be brought to completion (i.e. writing a persuasive essay). When this happens the schedule flexes to accommodate several days of writing lessons before continuing on with the grammar portion. There is a detailed schedule for setting up these lessons as well as a very helpful topical listing of the textbook contents which would serve as a type of scope and sequence.
If you love Saxon math and regretted there was nothing quite like it for language arts (I've talked to moms with this lament), then you will be a happy camper. If you've never heard of Saxon but just want a carefully sequenced, thorough, and comprehensive approach to language arts, you'll also be a happy camper. Camping anyone? ~ Janice
These materials offer complete coverage of both writing and grammar.