As promised, my review of Teaching Textbooks — with big thanks to Kathryn, our resident expert, for her assistance in making sure I covered all the important points in this review!
Teaching Textbooks is a full-year math curriculum that includes a consumable workbook, an answer booklet, and four CDs with step-by-step audiovisual instruction — plus a digital gradebook that instantly grades answers and calculates scores for each assignment.
First, since I always find reviews most helpful when I know where the reviewer is coming from, let me tell you a bit about us. I have home educated Kathryn since kindergarten, and we have used several of the math curricula I most often hear about: Saxon (1st and 2nd grades), Horizons (3rd and 4th grades), and Singapore (kindergarten, and beginning of 5th grade). They have all had their good and bad points. Somewhere along the way, though certainly not entirely because of curriculum we were or weren’t using, Kathryn began to hate math. Our homeschool days became stressful because of all the difficulties surrounding our math lessons. Clearly, I couldn’t just do away with math entirely, but we had to have something significantly different. She had become frustrated, and began to feel as though math was hard and she was bad at it — which was far from the truth.
I hesitated in trying Teaching Textbooks because of the cost. I don’t mind paying for a good curriculum that really works, but not for one we’d briefly use and then set aside. Finally, I took the plunge, deciding that even if it only succeeded in getting us over this difficult math-malevolent hump, it would be worth every penny.
Before starting this program, we took a couple of weeks off from math so we could have a fresh start. I talked it up favorably, as I often do with any new thing we’ll be trying. Kathryn enjoys playing educational games on the computer, so I told her that in many ways, this would be like that.
How it works: Kathryn puts in the current Teaching Textbooks CD into the laptop. She clicks the desktop icon to open the program, which we easily installed before the first lesson. Once the program opens, she logs in, then chooses the lesson she is to do. She can also view her gradebook at any time, and usually does so at the end of her lesson. The gradebook shows the score of each lesson, and any problems missed. Teaching Textbooks comes with a workbook, but we have not used that at all. She keeps a piece of scrap paper nearby to work out problems she can’t do in her head. The workbook is good to have for reference purposes, and some families might use it often.
Each lesson is taught orally, along with animation demonstrating what is being taught. (You can view a sample lesson on the TT site.) The narrator has a pleasant voice, and every time the student enters a correct answer, the narrator offers some positive encouragement, such as Great job; You got it; or Awesome! Once the lesson has been explained, there are a few practice problems before the “real” assignment begins. Some of the questions in each lesson are true/false; some are multiple choice; some are fill-in-the-blank.
I’m not sure what options there are for older kids in the upper-level programs, but this level allows the student to choose a “buddy” for each lesson. These buddies show up in the top left-hand corner of the screen, and change slightly as the child answers each question correctly. For instance, a robot is built a little at a time, until it’s complete and a new one starts. Same with paper airplanes. Or a kitten changes outfits and adds accessories, or a mouse climbs higher to reach a piece of cheese. The buddies can even be changed mid-lesson. They also offer occasional hints throughout the lesson. It’s fun, and if I’m not close by, Kathryn calls me over to see what the buddy is doing.
In preparing to write this review, I asked Kathryn for her input. As a homeschooling mom, I can give my opinion about it, but I think the student’s opinion is just as important!
- She told me her favorite thing about Teaching Textbooks is the buddies; her least favorite thing is the T/F questions because they can be tricky.
- When compared to the other math curricula we’ve used, I asked if she likes this one better. When she said yes, I asked if it’s just a little better, or a lot; she enthusiastically said it’s a LOT better!
- She had this to tell the kids: “It’s easier than the other math programs. Well, it’s not really easier, but it explains things really well, and helps you whether you learn best with your ears or with your eyes.”
- To the parents: “It doesn’t take up much room because you only need the cd’s, as long as you already have a computer to use. It is easy for you because it does most of the teaching.”
From my perspective, the lessons are easy. No preparation on my part is required, and if I follow along with the lesson, I can easily clarify any questions Kathryn has — which are infrequent. It even does all the grading for me.
In the beginning, she was very frustrated that she couldn’t go back to change an incorrect answer (except with fill-in-the-blanks, where the student gets two chances); she has perfectionist tendencies, and having a “wrong answer” on the gradebook upset her. But I used that as a teaching opportunity in itself, and pointed out that a “wrong” answer is just a tool to show that we might need a little more practice on that type of problem. Once we worked past that, I’ve heard no complaining, and that is a DRASTIC change from what math time had become before starting Teaching Textbooks.
Besides the improvement in our lessons, Kathryn’s natural enjoyment of math has returned, too. She doesn’t love every aspect of math, but she has always astounded me with the math she can do mentally (since I have to write down everything), in pointing out things like math problems on the clock (for instance, 4:28 is a math problem because 4 multiplied by 2 is 8). She ponders things like what pi really is, and where infinity ends, and how far you could count if you just kept counting. She is a math-minded child, which is why I knew there was something seriously out of whack when she started disliking it.
Is this the perfect math program? No; I don’t believe there is one. And of course, we must keep in mind the individual learning style of her child, as well as many other factors. I don’t know how long we’ll keep using Teaching Textbooks, but it has proved itself invaluable in our home this year.
More questions? Kathryn and I will do our best to answer them in the comments!