“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”
– Muhammad Ali
As one of the greatest athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali knew a little bit about the value of training. He would run, spar, and work out in the gym with incredible tenacity. He knew that to be the best, his goal required focus, perseverance, and a little suffering.
It’s this sort of analogy that I hope will help us as we consider the end of the school year and ask the question, “What does finishing a Saxon Math book look like?” As I see it, there are three general ways people approach rounding out a Saxon course, taking breaks, and starting new books.
Today we’ll look at those options and I’ll walk you through what those are, why people choose each one, and what I think works best.
1. Finish All the Lessons. Yep, all of them. This is the most obvious but also perhaps the most unpopular approach to Saxon math. It leaves less wiggle room for breaks, and often is only completed by working at least partially through the summer.
However, it is also the one that allows your student to fully benefit from the spiral method. John Saxon was a military man, and no stranger to the concept and benefits of hard, repetitive training. It shows in his books–and it shows in the results of those who understand his vision.
As such, the incremental introductions to concepts keep coming even in the last lessons of the book. They pick up again at the start of the next course. Despite what others may tell you, they are not filler lessons. There are true instructional gems in these lessons that can help students grasp concepts in a much deeper way.
2. Finish After Lesson 100. I’ve heard this as an option from many who use traditional schools as an example. The story is that traditional schools rarely finish more than 100 lessons in a school year (I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s what I hear when people talk about this approach). Additionally, there is an idea that the first lessons of the next books will “review” the last 20 lessons of the previous book.
Many, many people use this approach and have students who do well with Saxon. As teachers, they feel refreshed, and their students get a long break from work.
However, there are a couple of caveats to this approach. First, not all concepts are repeated multiple times in Saxon math, so it’s important to understand that your student might not get exposure to everything they need if lessons are skipped. You may want to be intentional about which lessons your student does if you are wanting to leave out lessons to finish your year.
Also, if calling the year “done” after lesson 100 means you have a long summer with no math, it’s important to consider how that might impact your child’s learning. While everyone needs breaks, a delay of repetition can negatively influence the automatic recall of concepts.
This is another time where sports are similar to math. In athletics, there is the concept of “detraining,” when you take a break and start to see a loss in the skills or fitness you worked to develop. So while a 2.5- or 3-month break might be enticing, it’s important to consider how to keep math skills fresh while enjoying a period of less academic pressure.
3. Finish All the Lessons (but Skip the First 20 of the next book). This is a similar idea to the previous one, but switches which lessons are skipped. Many people who do this will have their child “test out” of the first lessons of the book to see where to start when they start back the next year.
But oh, there are such good nuggets in those first lessons! Again, even when a *concept* is repeated, the manner in which it is explained may be different–and that could mean something clicks with a student that wouldn’t otherwise. If this is the method you choose, again, you may want to pay extra attention to which lessons you are foregoing instead of skipping them in bulk.
“Great, Nicole, so you’re telling me to do more math?”
Look, I understand that life happens. There are things going on with you and your students and math learning does not happen in a a vacuum! And that summer break is amazing and often an essential part of everyone’s mental health. I just want to help you make an intentional decision about what finishing a Saxon math book looks like, and make sure my subscribers know all their options!
I strongly support you taking breaks. It’s why EVERY lesson gets the treat of a Corny Brain Break! The brain needs rest, and so much important stuff happens up there when kids aren’t actively working. Despite that, true mastery happens with repetition over time, and too much time off means that repetition simply isn’t happening.
Is it possible to take a shorter break when it comes just to math? If so, your student might find it less jarring to start back to work again. Consider doing a lesson or two per week after your year is officially finished, and then easing back into work again after some true time off. Depending on how your structure your year, that could easily get your through those last 16-20 lessons while still allowing a true brain break for a month or so.
And if you ultimately decide to forego some lessons? Use the book to make decisions on what lessons should be prioritized as you do so.
Muhammed Ali knew full well what he needed to do to achieve the excellence he wanted, and he went for it. At the heart of his method? Consistent and diligent training over time, even when he didn’t want to.
If you are able, I urge you to consider having your student finishing a Saxon math book–all the way through. Later, when they are struggling through Physics, Calculus, or Chemistry, they might– they just might thank you for all those days of mental training.
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