Less is More – Why You Should Skip Chapters in the Textbook

Let me begin by telling you that my students’ proficiency scores and learning gain scores are always massively higher than the state and district averages; as well as better than all the teachers in my school and all the schools in my county.

That said, there are chapters in the textbook that I DO NOT TEACH! I do this to help my students do better on the state assessment, though I know that I am not exposing them to all of the material that they will be tested on.

For example, when I teach Pre-Algebra, I always skip the volume chapter. 

Some facts you should know about the state diagnostic for Pre-Algebra:

  1. It’s over 120 questions, covering 28 standards
  2. The volume of cones, pyramids, and spheres is one of those standards, and the students must memorize all three formulas for this one standard.
  3. The students must also memorize several other formulas for this test including slope, the Pythagorean Theorem, y= mx + b, the angle sum theorem, and exterior angle theorem.

The decision to skip volume for most of my Pre-Algeria students is merely good math. 

Let’s say Student A only has the ability to memorize and correctly apply 3 formulas. What will get him (and me) the most bang for his buck? 

Option A) learning (1) slope, (2) the linear equation, and (3) the Pythagorean Theorem


Option B) learning the three volume formulas


Option A covers 3 standards, totaling about 18 questions on the diagnostic

Option B covers one standard, about 6 questions on the diagnostic. 

Furthermore, the three standards in Option A all are heavily used in Algebra I, while the formulas for volume are not.

One last point, geometry questions are always tougher. Besides having to correctly use the formulas, the diagnostic will often ask them to do weird things like cut the cone in half, or remove the sphere from the pyramid.

Some Applications

  1. The diagnostics are hard, requiring students to fully grasp a standard in order to get questions right. And there are no easy questions on it. It’s better to fully teach one skill, then lightly teach two. 

2. The diagnostic is heavily curved. Usually getting between 33-50% of the questions right is passing. So don’t be afraid to sacrifice some standards in the name of FULLY comprehending others. Less can be more

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