Making a Difference: Using Assessment for Learning and the Three-Part Lesson Plan to Improve Student Achievement in Math

Division(s): Junior
Level(s): Grade 5

Our project focused on the use of the three-part lesson plan, a problem-solving model, a constructivist framework and various assessment strategies to increase students' conceptual understanding of volume, mass, displacement and capacity.

Our school has been working diligently for a couple of years to improve the ability of our students to reason and prove in math as outlined in our school’s Theory of Action Plan to improve student achievement. To continue to meet these goals as a school community, the Grade 5 team was interested in making a difference in students’ mathematical learning by using the three-part lesson plan and various strategies for Assessment for Learning to shift student achievement in measurement. We engaged in a thorough review and analysis of mathematical resources and co-created three-part lesson plans that supported our cross-curricular units and incorporated rich tasks in the areas of volume, mass, capacity and displacement.

Team Members

  • Maddie Mehra

    Peel District School Board

  • Ying Zhang

    Peel District School Board

  • Ambreen Hussain

    Peel District School Board

  • Patricia Harber

    Peel District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

There were various professional learning goals that were achieved through this project. Some of these include:

  • Developed a greater repertoire of “Assessment for Learning” strategies as they relate to mathematical understanding
  • Deepened understanding of the effective implementation of all the components of the three-part lesson
  • A greater knowledge of how using constructivist principles in lesson design helped students build understanding through investigation
  • A greater understanding of how co-planning and co-debriefing of mathematics lessons helped to do a gap analysis in our own teaching in order to respond to the needs of students, while leveraging their strengths
  • A greater understanding of how collaborative analysis resulted in determination of gaps in mathematical thinking and planning of next steps in instruction
  • Exploration of various resources that supported instruction and assessment practices for math at the junior level


Activities and Resources

  • Creation of a diagnostic task to measure what students knew and understood about the connection and difference between area, perimeter and volume from the previous grade
  • Unpacking of mathematical concepts through professional discourse (i.e., the reasoning behind different units of measurement – cm squared and cubed when it comes to measurement)
  • Planning and implementation of lessons that included connecting measurement to real-life concepts (i.e., estimation of volume using 0bjects in the school, connecting volume to real-life applications)
  • Professional Discourse that helped us to understand the importance of the use of the three-part lesson plan in order to build student thinking through the Minds On, Action and Consolidate phases
  • Skillful planning and inclusion of guiding questions in order to move student thinking within the Action phase of the three-part problem-solving model
  • Seeking and implementation of constructivist principles in lesson plans so students deduced their own understanding of calculating volume and displacement
  • Development of learning goals and success criteria for all tasks
  • Sourcing of various rich tasks from multiple resources such as Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson Plan, Moving Math, PRIME, Guides to Effective Instruction, websites, etc.)

Unexpected Challenges

  • Frequent staff changes prevented the start of the project in a timely fashion
  • Due to medical reasons, one team member was at the school only half time which made scheduling of release days somewhat difficult
  • Time sometimes became a factor as the unit was divided into subtasks which took longer than a regular numeracy block

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • Consistently referencing success criteria helped students to better their responses and self-assess their own work prior to submission
  • Doing math think-alouds helped students understand how to show their thinking and make it visible
  • Activities in the unit provided students an opportunity to see the link between volume, capacity and displacement
  • Using principles of constructivism in a collaborative setting helped students to build their own knowledge and make generalizations through the use of manipulatives and experiential activities (i.e., how to calculate volume more efficiently)
  • Students developed their co-operation and communication skills when working with groups to solve problems
  • Greater engagement in math tasks as students enjoyed collaborative math activities and building their own conceptual understanding through experiential activities



  • Subtasks and student learning was shared with staff during a staff meeting
  • Unit plan was shared with the future Grade 5 team as well as the future Grade 6 team in the school so that the team knows how to best support students as they learn measurement concepts in the subsequent grades

Project Evaluation

The project was definitely a success! Our goals were met since the project increased teacher efficacy and confirmed the importance of collaboration as a team. It created a better professional understanding of the math expectations for measurement and helped us realize the importance of unpacking each specific expectation carefully. Most importantly, we were able to see results in our students’ understanding and engagement with math.

In the future, we would not use the same diagnostic that we used because reviewing perimeter was not an essential understanding for volume, displacement, mass and capacity. For the diagnostic, students were asked to build an animal with centimetre cubes and figure out its area, volume and perimeter. Although this initial task was enjoyable for the students, it was difficult for them to calculate the volume of their animal which was in an irregular shape. Therefore, constructing a rectangular prism might have been more appropriate as a diagnostic task. Furthermore, some classes required more consolidation and mini lessons to meet the diverse needs of the students in addition to the activities in the unit that the team created. Therefore, building a repertoire of more consolidation activities as a team would also be helpful in the future to meet the needs of all the students of a particular class.

Resources Used

  • Open Questions for the Three-Part Lesson by Marian Small
  • PRIME Measurement Strand Kit by Marian Small
  • Moving Math by Maria Luisa Lebar and Mary Fiore
  • Teaching Math with Meaning by Cathy Marks Krpan
  • Visible Learning for Mathematics: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning by John Hattie, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
  • The Formative 5: Everyday Assessment Techniques for Every Math Classroom by Francis Fennell, Beth McCord Kobett and Jonathan A. Wray
  • Taking Shape: Activities to Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking by Joan Moss, Catherine D. Bruce, Bev Caswell), Tara Flynn, Zachary Hawes
  • What to Look For by Alex Lawson
  • Guides to Effective Instruction Measurement Grades 4 to 6