Assessment Design

Using Games for Assessment (Ep. 106)

Assessment can be difficult. But when you do them right, they can turn your art classroom into a more fun, positive place that is authentic and accessible. Today, Emily Compton is on the show to share some of her best games for assessing her students. Listen as she talks to Nic about critical thinking, creativity, and why assessments are strongest when they are based on a strong, scaffolded art curriculum.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


Nic: This last year, my good buddy, Jen Dahl asked me to present at a carousel presentation at NAEA 2019. Now, carousel means that you’re going to be presenting on one topic with five other people, and you’re going to present 10 minutes of information. Then a bell rings and you move to the next small group and the next small group and you present your information five, six times as you rotate around the room.

Our presentation was going to be on Games for Assessment. I love using play in the classroom. I was excited to present on this because I knew I had some good information to share. But I was even more excited when the room was filled to the brim with people on the floor, along the walls, and nobody was able to move.

Therefore, we as presenters were not able to give our presentation to a small group, and I got to listen to the other presenters in the room, which was a treat.

One of the presenters was Emily Compton and she’s going to be talking to us today about Games for Assessment. She is going to be talking to us about what she does in her classroom, how she does it and you are going to be blown away.

I’m Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.

So Emily, can you tell us about your educational background, maybe the college or the career path that you’ve taken to come to where you are right now?

Emily: Yeah. I went to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in art education in 2009. And then, on a whim, I went to a career fair and then happened to see my former high school principal, who was HR for a new district with an elementary art teacher opening. And so, I landed my dream job just days after graduation.

Nic: Wow.

Emily: Yeah, it was great. I felt really lucky. And then, I just finished up my 10th year teaching at that elementary school. Yeah, same school, 10 years. And I just really loved it. And then my principal there, about four years ago, started pushing me. We were doing my end of the year evaluation and he said, “You know, Emily, you do a lot of professional development. You always go to things but you’re not doing much to share what you know.”

So he started pushing me to go share my knowledge more. And then, with another teacher from my district for some moral support, we signed up to present at a district training, but we were way too nervous to get up in front of other teachers to present. So we signed up to have a little table and we put these game assessment things that we had both started to do in our art room, and had been developing together, out on a table and just let people stop by. It seemed a little less scary. And then we got this really incredible feedback from classroom teachers about how they thought they could use this assessment method in their classroom and it just, kind of, proved that it was a good idea and that lots of people could use it. So with that, I signed up to present at the Indiana Art Education Convention and then that went really well.

And so then, I signed up to present at the National Art Ed convention and that went really well. And then last year I got to present with you and a bunch of other art teachers in a big setting at the National Art Ed conference. And that was so fun. It went really well. We got tons of amazing feedback all about these assessment games that I’ve been using.

Nic: Great. I know you from our presentation, you mentioned that earlier, Games for Assessment in Boston, at the NAEA conference. So, I got to see the insight of all of what you’re describing, but why is it important to play games for assessments with our students?

Emily: So I am sure that we have all had that dreaded paper, pencil test experience in the elementary art room. It is so awful. I would need data for grading period or my administrators would want to see some testing data and so I would try a paper, pencil test and it was always miserable.

So giving a paper, pencil test in my classroom, I was begging students to stay quiet during a test, because we are never quiet when we’re making art in my classroom. And so that’s just not an experience they’re used to. So it was always like I was bribing them to stay quiet. And then on this paper, pencil test I had to read it aloud to three students with IEPs, which was distracting to other students because I’m trying to do this all in one classroom, in one 40-minute class period.

I would have three students be done in the first five minutes and then I would have to try to keep them silent, which was awful. I would have a bunch of students really confused about what the question was asking. Even though I know they know it because we did it in artwork last week, and then I would have four students still on the first question at the end of 40 minutes. It was just maddening and they were really stressed out. I would have a kid crying. It was just terrible.

But the other option is putting a grade on the back of an artwork, which is also awful. I would put a grade on the back of a landscape project that a student was super proud of, but I was looking to see that they knew how to use perspective and I didn’t see any evidence of that. So I couldn’t give a good score. And then that student would get this artwork that they used to be really proud of, see the grade on the back and crumble it up and say, “I’m just so bad at art,” as they’re leaving my art room, throwing their art work away. That’s just crushing, and that’s the last thing that I should be doing to students in an elementary art room.

When my students leave me as fifth graders, they’re taking their last required art class. If I’ve convinced them that they’re not good at art, because of putting grades on the back of their artwork, they may never take art again. And that’s a huge responsibility. So using these games has created a huge culture shift in my classroom.

These games are used with the artwork that they’re making. They get to make an artwork using skills, if they want to, that we’ve learned in my art room. My games will just kind of help support that. Instead of asking them to show space in their artwork, they can do it with a little game assessment. And all of these game assessments are super fun. The kids will leave my art room thanking me for a fun art class on a day that I am testing them now.

They’re also really quick. I’ve designed all my assessments to take just a minute or two, so my students aren’t taking a 40-minute class period out of their art making time to take a test for me. They get to make art for 30 minutes, take an assessment for two. They’re quick for me to grade and they’re quick for students to take, so I’m no longer taking their art time away from them.

They’re also really authentic. They’re based on elements of art. They’re showing me that students understand some foundational skills in art making without forcing them to do them in artwork. They get to make authentic artwork, but they also get to authentically show me they understand a skill. They’re really accessible for students with special needs.

Most of my games are a little manipulative pieces that the students move around. These are really good for students with special needs who are inherently good at using manipulatives to show what they know. They’re also accessible because my games can be used multiple times over and over again, which students with special needs generally and frequently need multiple exposure to something before they can show you that they actually know it.

They also helped me build positive relationships with my students. My students are coming up to my desk and playing a game for one or two minutes and we can have just a conversation and chat about whatever while they’re doing it. So I get one on one time with my students. And it doesn’t feel a test, so they’re not all stressed out while they’re up there.

And then, if they get it right, it feels like we get to celebrate. We give a high five, they feel like they’re leveling-up in a video game. And then if they don’t get it right, I’ve got the manipulatives right there in front of both of us so I can reteach a skill so it doesn’t feel a big zero on the back of an artwork or a score that they’re not happy with. It feels like a chance to grow.

They’re getting immediate feedback from me. And then my students are taking ownership of their learning because it’s kind of this video game, leveling-up sort of structure. They find a lot of pride in reaching that next level. When they reach a level and they show me that they know how to consort primary and secondary colors, they’re really excited to go get the next level assessment and show me that they know how to make the secondary colors, and then show me how they can put a color wheel in order.

They’re always showing growth and they’re excited about what they’re learning and to show me. And they’re taking ownership of learning new skills in art.

Nic: Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing. What you have described so far sounds amazing. But I need a better visual.

I’ve seen your assessments, but can you, without having that visual, describe to us what your assessments look like and how you implement these in your classroom.

Emily: Yeah, so games as assessments don’t have to be super complicated. I’m not creating big, long, complicated games with lots of pieces. I’ve tried to take something that I generally would have put on a worksheet. So, a color wheel. I used to put a color wheel on a worksheet and ask students to color it in or write the color names on it. I’ve taken that idea and instead of having kids have to write things down or color things because they always choose the wrong color, because pink close enough, right?. Or the colored pencil wasn’t sharpened, so I just used other colors or I messed up and I decided not to try on the rest of it, because I messed up one piece.

Instead, I print off a filled-in color wheel, in color. I laminate it and then I cut out the pieces, the individual little triangles and then put magnets on the back. Instead of filling in or coloring in a color wheel now to assess that skill, my students are taking these little magnetic pieces and arranging them a puzzle on a cookie sheet, which the magnets stick to. It’s taken this idea of me having to assess something that used to be a writing skill or a coloring skill, with lots of problems to something that feels a game because they’re moving pieces around. Not overly complicated.

Another one, I have to assess space in an artwork. I used to, and that example of assessing a landscape, looking for size and overlap and placement, instead of having to put a grade on the back of an artwork, because maybe it doesn’t have perspective, I put a little empty landscape with just a horizon line and some grass and some sky, and I attached it to a cookie sheet. And then I made trees and different objects of different sizes with little magnets on the back.

Now students can show me that they know how to use perspective in a landscape by choosing which objects they want to use and arranging them in a picture with size and overlap and placement to show me they know that skill.

Nic: Oh, I can really visualize that for explaining it so well.

Emily: Yeah, and then in my classroom, I keep all of these cookie sheets. Some of them are in file folders with little Velcro pieces. I keep them all on one bookcase in my classroom and so students have access to them at any time. These are really great activities for early finishers.

Students can go up to the bookcase, select the assessment they’re going to do, do the assessment, come show me their work and I can put their grade and my grade book right away.

I have students who are really, really motivated who will go get the assessment, do it, go get the next level, do that assessment. And they just are really excited, and excited to level-up all the time, and so they’ll do that on their own. But I also have students who need a little help with motivation. So when I need to get assessments done and grades entered, I will put one assessment on every table.

I have six tables in my classroom so I make six assessments of each kind. I’ll put one in the middle of every table and just let kids know they have to take that assessment before they leave my classroom that day. And since all my assessments only take a minute or two, a student will take the assessment with me and then go mix it up, pass it off to the next student at their table, who will then come up and do the assessment with me. I can get through all 25 kids doing one assessment in a 40 minute class period.

Nic: Wow. That is really time effective as well.

Emily: It is.

Nic: You talked about some of the concepts that you’ve covered already, but I’m curious to know what other concepts work well with this Games for Assessment and then what age groups are you using this with?

Emily: I am using my games with elementary because that’s what I teach, but they’re all based on elements of art for kindergarten through fourth grade and then art criticism and art history and some higher level thinking skills with fifth grade. But I definitely see a way for these to be used with older kids, kind of, in support with what artwork they’re making. Because it isn’t asking students to use the skill in their artwork, you can have them practice a skill and then design their own way to use their foundational elements of art knowledge in an artwork. So that could definitely be used in middle school and high school too, I think.

For my kindergarten through fourth grade, the elements of art is what it’s all based on. I used to have this love/hate thing with the elements of art. So the elements of art or this really great, concrete way to show that students know what they’re doing in art. Administrators love that.

It’s a great easy way to get some data to show that they’re growing as artists, but at the same time, the elements of art can be really hard to use in an artwork. The negative is that if you’re forcing students to use an element of art in an artwork, it’s not showing how artists actually work. So artists don’t sit down and go, “Right, today I’m going to use the primary colors and I’m going to use horizontal lines and I’m going to use expressive lines.” They don’t sit down and select those all and then go make artwork. It’s a much more organic, creative thing than that.

I don’t want to teach my students to sit down and select which elements of art they are going to use and then go use them. The elements of art help because we’re giving students a foundational knowledge that they can use and see in artwork. Right? I see that what I did in this art work works because these colors are analogous and they go together, or I use space really well and I showed perspective when I made this choice.

It helps them grow as artists, but forcing them to use an element of art isn’t that organic creative thing I want them to do as artists. This process, using these games that focus on the elements of art, are supporting kids as they learn those foundational skills, but then also supporting kids as they make creative organic choices when they make art.

I used to have to tell my students, “So we are assessing primary colors right now, you have to use three primary colors in your artwork.”

Now I can say we’re learning about primary colors right now. Use this game assessment to show me you know primary colors. But then when you make your artwork, you can choose to use the primary colors or not. Now you know how they work. But if as an artist you choose not to use them, that’s totally fine.

All of these elements of art for kindergarten through fourth grade, I teach three elements of art per grade level. And then in fifth grade they have mastered those elements of art. They really, really know those, after those five years of focusing on them. In fifth grade they’re ready for more critical thinking skills. I’m asking them with my assessment games to identify or demonstrate knowledge of why and how elements of art are used in other people’s art work or to kind of think back after they’ve made choices as an artist in their own artwork and figure out which elements did I use and how did they work, where are they successful?

I also asked them to dive into more art criticism skills, which goes really hand in hand with that, kind of demonstrating knowledge of elements of art. And then we’re also doing art history skills.

My students in fifth grade get a bunch of little magnetic artworks and they get to sort those into style categories, ancient art and classical art and modern art, and they get to pick which artworks they’re going to use for that too.

Nic: Wow. It sounds you’re using a lot of scaffolding, best practice for sure, in your assessments, but just making a lot of fun. The other thing that I really enjoyed that you said was that this is developed for elementary, but to broaden your mind and also think about using games for assessment for older levels as well. Yep, very, very interesting.

I can see the assessments that you’re describing, but I’m wondering if you were to talk to another art teacher, what materials/tools would you need to really create these assessments? What are the things that you can’t live without?

Emily: Right. I make most of my game pieces and games on Microsoft Word for the things that I’m physically making. Or sometimes I just go find a picture of a color wheel and print it out. And then I laminate those and I cut those out to make them into pieces. The items I have to have are magnets with sticky backs. I get a big roll from Blick that’s really good and sticky, that’ll stay on the pieces, because gluing the magnets is very annoying. I also use Velcro dots that are sticky back. The bigger ones, not the tiny, tiny small ones because the kids can’t get the pieces to stay on. So the bigger Velcro dots. I use those in file folder games. Some of my games I will make the pieces all stick to one side of the file folder and the kids just have to sort those pieces to the other side on a different Velcro dot. Those work pretty well.

I use pizza pans from the Dollar Store and cookie sheets from the Dollar Store. I definitely recommend the Dollar Store ones and not fancier, more expensive ones. The cheapness of them makes them ideal because they’re lightweight, they are not heavy to store and they stack really well and they’re cheap. So if a student messes one up, it’s not a big deal. It costs me a dollar.

Then magnetic spinners. I was lucky enough five years ago to find some magnetic spinners at the Dollar Store, and I bought as many as I could. But I can’t find those anymore there. You can get magnetic spinners from educational stores. They’re a little more expensive though. I think they’re really nice to have on hand because those magnetic spinners will fit on one of those dollars to pizza pans. And then you can just change out the mat underneath it, and make a whole bunch of different games with one spinner and one pizza pan.

I have put a tertiary color wheel on there and then a student has to spin the spinner. It’ll land on a color and then we can do different games with that. My third graders have to sort those into color families. So if they spin blue, they could sort that into a primary color group or they could sort that into a cool color group. But then I can also take that same spinner and pizza pan and change out the mat and I can put one with different textures on it. And so a student has to spin a texture and then draw the texture that they spin. And so that one thing can be lots of different games with that spinner.

Nic: Emily, you’ve given us so much amazing information so far, but I’m wondering if there’s things that I missed to ask. What are some of the things that you hear when you present this to people?

Emily: When I present all of these game assessments to teachers, I get a lot of feedback and a lot of questions asking how much time that I’ve put into these assessments. Because when you see everything that I’ve created and all of these cookie sheets and all these file folders, with all these little pieces in them, it looks really daunting, like it took ages. But I didn’t start out making these assessment games thinking I need to make assessment games for every assessment I’m going to do all year. Instead, I would sit down and go, right, I have to assess primary colors soon. So instead of making a little worksheets or a project or an assignment to assess primary colors, I’m going to spend my time making little pieces of primary colors and a little game mat and attaching magnets to it.

Instead of making things to pass out and then taking the assessment once it was done, home and grading it, and then entering grades, I spent my time assembling these little pieces and these magnets and stuff. But then I would save a lot of time because the students are taking these assessments in my classroom and I’m grading them while they are there. I no longer put grades on the back of artworks or grade assessment paper, pencil things, and I don’t have to do all of that at home or enter grades at home.

The student takes the assessment in front of me. Plays this little game. I enter their score into my grade book while they are standing there with me. They see me enter it and then I’m done. I save a lot of time on the back end with the actually grading part.

And then, as time has gone on, I’ve saved myself a ton of time once these are already created. I don’t have to create assessments, they’re already ready to go and out in my classroom.

Today we’re going to assess color. I put one in the middle of each table and then I am done assessing and grading by the time they leave class that day. Then I can spend this extra time that I have developing my next set of assessments for the next grade level or I got this really good idea and I want to try out this new thing so I’ll make this new game with my extra time.

It’s an investment at the beginning, but you save the time going on. I wouldn’t start out thinking that you’ve got to everything done and be ready to assess using games at the beginning of the year, because it’s just not realistic to do that.

I would say that every bit of time that I’ve spent on making these assessment has been super worth it for me and my students because it’s totally changed the culture of my classroom. Students are no longer stressed out about tests. They are really excited to be in my classroom. It’s created this really positive learning environment that is really growth based and the students are taking ownership of their learning and they’re excited to level-up. And they’re also really excited about being able to do their own thing in their artwork. They’re functioning as artists, as creative people and applying things that they learn in their artwork, on their own, as they want to.

It’s been this really great, positive change in my classroom for all of the artists, including myself.

Nic: Wow. Absolutely. I can see that. Now that you explain all of that, to have that reusable stuff ready to go and not have to run to the copy machine or whatever, I can see where that eventually saves time. That is some … a really, really good tip for teachers.

Emily: Yeah.

Nic: Emily, everything that you have presented, I know people are going to want to know more. First of all, I’m really excited because you have agreed to guest blog on Mini Matisse and I … So I’m really excited to have you do that. But I know that you have a website that we’ll connect people with, with the links and maybe a Teachers Pay Teachers. Can you tell us a little bit more about those two things?

Emily: Yeah. When I started presenting these games I realized I needed to have a way for people to see them because it’s just nice to be able to see how they work. I’ve got a website that I created that kind of goes along with my presentations on this stuff. On that website I filmed some videos of how the assessments are used, of me using them.

I also have links to my, kind of, scaffolded skills, so you can see which elements of art I teach in each grade level and then how … the different levels for each one of those skills. So there’s links to that and that’s all free, and videos of a lot of my assessments.

I have just a few of my assessments up for free on Teacher Pay Teacher so you can download that for free and then print them out and cut them out and attach your own magnets and stuff. I also attached those rubrics and the different scaffolded skills that go with them on the Teacher Pay Teacher so you can have that stuff for free.

Nic: Wow. That is very generous. Hey Emily, thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Emily: It was wonderful. Thanks for having me.

Nic: Oh my goodness, you guys, wasn’t she marvelous? Emily Compton has some great ideas and we tried our very best to give you the best idea of what she was talking about without using visual aids, but I have some resources for you.

I’ve asked Emily to do a guest blog on so she has gone into more detail on what she was talking about today on my blog. Go ahead and check that out in the links with this podcast.

Another option is just to go directly to her website and her social media links, which will all be in the resources with this podcast as well.

Another thing that I want to offer to you is if assessment is a focus for you or you are looking for more information about assessment in the art room, we actually have a class on assessment in the art room.

I’ve taught this a couple of times. Early on I worked for AOE as an instructor, and I’ve taught this classroom assessment class several times. It is pretty strong. There is a book by Michael Linsin that supports it, and it’s pretty good. So there’s lots of options for you to create interesting and unique assessments for your art classroom this very year.

I hope Emily helped you out and as always, I enjoyed our time together. We will see you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.