Mastery Learning: Grammar

reviewed by Noel Leithart

This software, written by Allen Hackworth, is freely available in demonstration form and aims to teach basic grammar and writing skills. It is composed of several parts: a pre-test, a lead-in to writing assignments, suggested writing topics, and grammar tutorials and drills at various levels.

Upon "signing-up" each student takes a pre-test. The pre-test is quite difficult, perhaps geared to upper students, but apparently has no real bearing on any scores for the student as he progresses through the program. I would suggest it is merely a score for the "report card" as a means of comparison for the teacher/parent. Next, one can either jump into the writing areas, creative or thematic, or go directly to the grammar section.

The most useful part of this software is the drills/tutorial section. It is based strictly on grammar. Areas covered include subject and verb identification, parts of speech, clauses/phrases, capitalization, punctuation, metaphor/simile and vocabulary. There is a "question bank" of over two hundred examples for each drill, so repetition is infrequent. The tutorials explain the topics using examples, while the drills test the student's understanding. The drills give a graded score which goes onto the student's record, so the parent can merely look at the "report card" to keep up with progress. Some curricula use different terms for the parts of speech, which may be confusing, but with the tutorial section these differences could quickly be overcome.

Even though the words used in the example sentences may be difficult, any student who has a good reading level can work through them regardless of being able to understand the complete meaning of the sentences themselves. This could be an advantage because some of the content might be considered objectionable; for example, "Self-love is not so vile as self-neglect" or "Religious fanatics sometimes do harm to others." However, if the software is registered, a password is provided which allows questions and topics to be edited or added, which would help to alleviate the problem. Thus, the grammar section can be used by a wide range of students, regardless of age.

The writing section is probably geared to early secondary students and up due to the need for typing ability at the computer. The best part of this section is that it takes the student on a step-by-step approach through a writing project. Those of us who have difficulty getting words on paper coherently would see this aspect as a positive. Again, the same cautions apply as in the grammar area. The topics might not appeal to Christian parents who are trying to teach their children to look at the world through Biblical glasses. (Registration allows editing privileges.) But the approach of topic paragraphs with topic sentences followed by a body of "proof" and then a conclusion is valid and a necessity.

There may be something better, and I'll continue to look, but after having nothing this looks workable for my family. No fun and games as distractions, just serious schoolwork.

The program runs under DOS on IBM PC compatibles, and is text-only. It assumes a school environment, and thus has details such as student numbers (I use their birth month and year) and high school names that are not relevant to homeschoolers; this is not a real problem. The user interface is a little unwieldy, but workable. If you have Internet access, the program can be found at

Note in March 2010: Mastery Learning Grammar software can now be found at

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