Review of Faces
that appeared in Idiom, the newsletter of New York State TESOL
Tim Walsh, Ph.D., M.F.A.
Dr. Tim Walsh is a professional artist and TESOL educator. Tim has presented at several NYSTESOL and TESOL conferences regarding uses of art in teaching English as a foreign or second language. He is currently developing a coloring book for beginning ESL literacy learners, including SIFE and nonliterate adults.
Moran's Faces: Seeing Is Creating
Review of Moran, P. (2008). Faces: Characters in search of authors. Brattleboro, VT: Prolingua.
We begin to see at birth, but we do not develop the ability to speak until well into our second year. Visual and linguistic experience are intertwined throughout human development, and ESL/EFL teachers take advantage of the relationship between the visual and the linguistic in a variety of ways. They use visual aids to spark conversation; they ask students to describe photographs; they instruct students to draw objects or scenes from dictation. Yet the appearance of a practical book for use by ESL teachers that taps learners' creative visual experience is rare, with few such books (see Wright 1990; Bassano and Christison 1995) currently in print. Faces: Characters in search of authors, Patrick Moran's innovative ESL workbook, is thus quite welcome.
Faces provides teachers with removable, reproducible images that they can use immediately in the K-12 or adult ESL classroom. There are fifty simple, black and white line portraits in the book, representing children, adolescents, young adults, middle-aged adults, and elderly persons from various cultural groups. As the author notes in his introduction "These faces are characters waiting for authors. They are waiting for language learners to imagine their identities, their histories, their hopes and dreams. " (Wright, v). The focus of the book is on creative classroom experience (via drawing, coloring, and interacting with peers) that can help students to free themselves from inhibitions--as in the "Affective Filter" construct introduced by Dulay and Burt (1977)--and imagine themselves as speakers and proficient users of English. How does Moran encourage this salutary outcome?
First, teachers using the book model the act of choosing a face, creating a brief biography for the character, and presenting their character to the group. Students then select a portrait that is attractive to them, take notes on the adjoining, blank page, and follow the same process of character creation and subsequent interaction with their peers. In the eleven-page "Teachers Guide," Moran provides step-by-step instructions regarding what students might do next: create and build characters based on the portraits, or create written records of narratives created in class, or script scenarios for interaction of characters. Students could also go beyond description of a character to actually become that character, and explore cultural knowledge about that person or a set of characters from similar backgrounds. Suggested class activities range from writing a timeline of a character's life to telling jokes in the voice of one's chosen character.
In Faces, text comes from the students, first orally, then in written form, as they explore the identities that they create for their chosen characters. This user-centered approach should appeal to a broad range of teachers with a wide range of philosophies-from adult education teachers with a Freireian bias to K-12 teachers who seek to activate their students' prior knowledge as they learn.
With Faces, the publisher has brought to market a highly useful teaching tool. The author has provided students with a means for using language to express something meaningful and personal in class, and not simply to practice decontextualized skills. By taking a minimalist approach to his task as a materials developer, Moran has freed the imaginations of both learners and teachers, resulting, one expects, in a wide variety of inventive uses in language classrooms.
Nevertheless, I found two shortcomings in the teachers' guide. Means of encouraging expressive drawing for personalization of the faces are not discussed. It would be good to read, in the guide, of how teachers might encourage learners to use color to personalize a portrait and express feelings and ideas. In multi-level classes, some beginners may initially be unwilling to use English, but they could enjoy completing visual tasks (such as adding, and possibly labeling, contexts for the pictures) as they listen to the language being used around them. Also, suggestions for adaptation of the text for two important groups of learners-nonliterate adults and Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) are missing. A short paragraph on the integration of Faces with existing methodologies (Total Physical Response, and Language Experience Approach, for example) might make the use of the book with students with low levels of oral proficiency or literacy clear to teachers. Perhaps, in a later edition, these oversights can be corrected. In the meantime, teachers should take a very close look at Faces; I think they'll see something there that they'll want to use-and talk about.
Bassano, S. and M. A. Christison (1995). Drawing out: Creative, personalized
whole language activities. San Francisco, Alta Book Center Publishers.