Dr. Pallais investigates cross-language and cross-cultural aspects of teaching and learning, especially with Spanish-speaking and Latino populations. Pallais’ main focus is on Spanish literacy, as part of a strengths-based approach for reading and writing instruction, with prospective and in-service bilingual or mainstream teachers, in the US and in Latin America. Her work examines how assumptions derived from established ideologies and policy initiatives guide educators in different teaching and learning contexts, especially with multilingual students. Her research is identifying the promising contributions of socio-symbolic dimensions in language and literacy development for advanced bilinguals creating and teaching with informational texts.
Pallais has been a university instructor, a literacy consultant, a program evaluator, an instructional designer, a school leader, a teacher, and a writer. She has taught ESL, Spanish, Nutrition Science, Applied linguistics, and Reading and Writing methods courses. Currently, she serves as the vice-president of OLI, the Online Learning Initiative founded by Dr. Felix Alvarado and that promotes a variety of education initiatives in Latin America.
Pallais started her career in education as an alternative teacher in Massachusetts. She taught Spanish and Nutrition Science at the “Group School”, a High School whose curriculum was designed with the participation of students from working-class backgrounds in the Boston area. Her Boston experience also included teaching Spanish and English to adults, and working as a simultaneous translator for several non-profit organizations.
In 1990, in her native Nicaragua, she founded Lo Pequeño es Bello (Small is Beautiful), a an innovative bilingual school that introduced computer-assisted instruction to small children, inspired by Seymour Pappert. Between 1990 and 1996, Pallais guided teachers and taught children 3-15 years at Lo Pequeño es Bello. Lo Pequeño es Bello placed students’ productions and student-centered teaching at the heart of its philosophy and pedagogy. The school was recognized for its pedagogical contributions and served to launch a new school. Pallais received an award from the parent community and won a scholarship to pursue a Masters at the Universidad de Salamanca, Spain, where she evaluated and expanded the curriculum experience of Lo Pequeño es Bello.
Upon returning from Spain, in 1998, Pallais worked as a national consultant with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education as part of a USAID-funded project. Click here for a summary of her work there. In addition, she taught at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN).
In 1999, she moved to Austin and in 2004, she obtained a Masters in Program Evaluation from the University of Texas at Austin. She immediately became part of the Reading First team at the Vaughn Gross Center, visiting grant-supported bilingual schools as part of technical assistance and professional development efforts. Between 2004 and 2013, she developed literacy products, collaborated with technical assistance efforts, presented in conferences, supported the conversion of face-to-face trainings into online courses, managed e-learning content, developed quizzes, and designed formative evaluation tools to improve the quality of products. During that time, Pallais was also a guest lecturer in the Department of Special Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her advocacy work regarding literacy approaches with Spanish-speaking communities in the US was born from this 2004-2013 experience. It was then that she began investigating cross-language aspects of reading with Spanish-speaking students and bilingual learners.
Between 2012 and 2015, Pallais did international literacy and evaluation consulting and service activities in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and especially in Peru. In January of 2014, she designed and led a literacy study tour in Texas for Peruvian educators. The tour was financed by USAID/Peru and Family Health International. She supported a similar effort for the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia in February of 2017. In 2014 she also started the Intercultural Center for Reading and Writing (Centro Intercultural de Lectura y Escritura, CILEES) , with the goal of promoting cultural exchange and collaboration among Latino literacy educators.
Between November 2014 and June of 2015, Pallais supported Finland’s Ministry of Education on the evaluation of EIBAMAZ, a bilingual intercultural education project that systematized ancestral knowledge from indigenous communities in the Amazon. The decade-long project generated curricular products to support bilingual classrooms in the region.
Between 2014 and 2015, Pallais became part of the first international cohort participating in an intense, post-graduate specialization in reading instruction at the Universidad de la Laguna, Tenerife, Spain.
In 2015, she joined the Bilingual/Bicultural program at the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a Ph.D. She defended her dissertation in December of 2019. Her research addressed the linguistic and pedagogical contributions of bilingual teacher candidates as part of creating and teaching with informational texts that incorporate the background knowledge and experiences of Latinos in the US. The study investigated how a group of Spanish-speaking bilinguals immersed in a transformative bilingual preparation program discursively responded to mainstream visions about academic Spanish and about literacy teaching sedimented historically for bilingual education communities. The data supported conceptual models, pedagogical efforts, and policy initiatives regarding simultaneous bilingualism, an area in need of research attention (Escamilla, 2014). In addition, the results highlighted the potential of teacher education contexts that focus on strengths, rather than on deficit paradigms.
Click here to view Pallais’ Curriculum Vitae.