Reflections on the Future

posted on Aug 2, 2019

How do our thoughts about the past or the future shape our present lives? How can our hopes and dreams cause us to reach toward our best selves? These were the questions I asked myself in designing this absorbing lesson. The process led students on an insightful journey of self-discovery and to deeply satisfying and beautiful outcomes.

student artwork - girl blowing bubblesJulia Stark.

During the lesson, I developed questions using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) model. DOK is used to analyze the cognitive expectation demanded by standards, curricular activities, and assessment tasks. Levels two through four enable students to learn more through talking and listening to each other.

I asked students to define the word “reflection” and recorded their answers in a discussion session to add to my slideshow. In the slideshow, I began with a few photographs of reflections in nature, showing simple scenes of trees in still water, then rippled water. I moved to paintings of reflections in nature, and finally to a set of surrealistic artworks showing different artists’ treatment of the concept. I finished with two photographs in a series by Tom Hussey about the powerful concept of time in which the subjects see their younger selves reflected in mirrors and windows.

Many insightful ideas and theories poured out during the slideshow. I asked students to write observations, words, and even quotes or song lyrics that came to mind. These would be used as keys to open avenues of thought for creating.

I explained that students would create a reflection of the future: “How do you see yourself in about ten years? You will be about twenty-three or twenty-four years old, starting a career, a family, or however you may envision your life.” I asked them to share ideas with a partner and write a list of things they might dream of. I emphasized that the dreams must be reality-based—no space aliens or dragons. I showed them my own reflection drawing, created when I was fourteen years old.

At first, students were overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite possibilities for their future. I reminded them that they could pick just a few things to focus on, again showing them my drawing, which portrayed about three elements of the future. I could even show them which of the things came true (I bought a horse), and which did not. This got them started and, with the addition of small group mini-lessons on drawing the human body and other images, students gained confidence and were on their way. Students rendered their final drawings with the color media of their choice.

Individualized Expression
I was impressed by students’ level of concentration on their work. All discussion centered around their projects, and strong individual ideas began to emerge. One result of these responses to the idea of reflection was that students began to imagine different ways of expressing the concept. For example, I had shown them reflections in pools of water; they showed me reflections in mirrors, bubbles, even the pupil of an eye. One concept involved time flowing through a mirror!

"student artwork - girl on a swingCarah Haynes.


One unexpected outcome of this project was the bonds of friendship that students expressed with their classmates. Some students included elements of their friends’ present and future within their own pictures, connecting them through small images of photographs, views from a distance, and other means.

I also shared information about brain research to encourage students that this work could be important in real life, including the creation and strengthening of pathways in the brain, as they concentrated for hours to draw, detail, and color their own strengths and the things they strive for.

We discussed visualization—how we create twice: first in the mind and then in actuality. Visualizing a future we believe in can help us persevere through challenging times and gain the things that are truly important in life. It is notable that none of my students included a life of wealth, celebrity, or fame; their visions focused on family, love, and adventure.

Lasting Visions
I did not expect this lesson to take as long as it did. Students themselves directed the amount of research, practice, and effort they put in, several coming in at lunchtime just to work on their pieces. They were absorbed for hours in their reflections, and through thinking, quiet discussion, and discovery, students’ artwork emerged as a lasting vision of a life where they could become their best selves.

Jean Paradis is an art teacher at Tucson Country Day School in Tucson, Arizona. farhavens@me.com

Connecting: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Guide: www.aps.edu/re/ documents/resources/Webbs_DOK_Guide.pdf

View this article in the digital edition.