Drawing To Assess

My 2nd and 3rd graders study the history of Colorado with their classroom teachers. This includes Native Americans living on the plains. In studio, we study the visual culture that arises from historical representation of Native Americans.

Before any instruction happens, I ask my students to draw a preliminary assessment picture. “Draw everything you know about the indigenous plains tribes of Colorado.” Students share ideas as they work, filling their papers with as many images as they can. Then they embarked on a long study with their classroom teacher about the daily lives of these people and their interactions with the colonizing settlers.  Meanwhile we work on related studio projects in art.

After their study, I pull out their drawings and ask them, “What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started this historical investigation? What in your picture would you correct?” They circle the discrepancies in their early pictures and explain why their perceptions were incorrect. I transcribe what they say and attach their new thinking to their images.


This student noticed that he got Plains and Pueblo Tribes confused. He also realized that tipis had intentional design, not random patterning. The series of cook fires was another misunderstanding (something he picked up from a cartoon).


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This student showed more detailed information about gender roles and tipi imagery.


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This student was able to clarify that “pitchforks and torches” came from his mixed memories of preindustrial weapons he had seen in movies and cartoons. This shows me that he is starting to purge some vague hybridized stereotypes from his mind, gaining skills to look at facts and differentiate them from fiction.

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This student modified her understanding of traditional women’s clothing from the plains tribes. She was working off of Disney’s Pocahontas. Again, this shows me that she is starting to purge media stereotypes from her mind, gaining skills to look at facts and differentiate them from fiction.


My students seemed to enjoy looking back at what they used to know. They studied their drawings carefully and were very interested whenever they noticed a previous misunderstanding. It made them feel like experts and they were proud of their new knowledge. It gave me information about how 2nd and 3rd graders can change their thinking in a few months. It also helped me understand individual students and their comfort levels admitting mistakes and embracing revision.


Berger, R., Gardner, H., Mejer, D., Montgomery, H.,  (2003) An ethic of excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Stiggens, R. (2004). Classroom assessment for student learning. Portland, OR: Assessment Training Institute.