2016 Pat Clifford Award Winner: Harnessing the True Learning Potential of Multilingual Classrooms
Dr. Gail Prasad’s research highlighting the benefits of culturally and linguistically inclusive classrooms has the potential to reshape the way teachers support language learners across Canada.
The CEA is proud to recognize Dr. Gail Prasad – Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the department of Curriculum and Instruction, and PhD graduate of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto – as the recipient of the 2016 Pat Clifford Award for Early Career Research in Education. This prestigious award is in recognition of her work in redefining the ways in which teachers can maximize learning for allstudents in our increasingly multilingual classrooms.
Dr. Prasad’s Indian-Japanese Canadian background – growing up in a household where her parents and extended family spoke a wide range of languages – spurred her fascination for language and identity. Leveraging her experience as a former classroom teacher and strong desire to connect with every learner, Dr. Prasad has boldly and successfully collaborated with groups of multilingual elementary students as co-investigators of their language experiences by using a highly creative arts-based approach that incorporated photography, drawing, and multilingual bookmaking.
These exercises led to conversations that provided Dr. Prasad with the opportunity to collect valuable data based on children’s self-expression and reflection. This not only allowed students to see their unique identities reflected in their work, but also deepened their classmates’ appreciation for cultural and linguistic diversity. Dr. Prasad’s subsequent research from these experiences highlighted in this article provides a framework for teacher education and professional development by demonstrating the benefits of incorporating students’ first languages into classroom activities. This work is especially pertinent in Canada’s increasingly diverse school systems.
“In a knowledge-based economy where languages are important, having multilingual children share their first languages through creative expression allows all students to develop a more diverse cultural and linguistic awareness,” explains Dr. Prasad. “I see the potential for this shift in language education in Canada to be one that not only supports official bilingualism, but also positions us to leverage the rich diversity that we have in our nation.”
The Pat Clifford Award Selection Committee was impressed with the creativity and originality of Dr. Prasad’s work, including her inclusion of children as co-investigators.
“Gail’s research has the potential to shift our current approach to language education by capitalizing on the ever-increasing student diversity in our classrooms,” says Dr. Michele Jacobsen, Chair of the Pat Clifford Award Selection Committee.
Dr. Prasad’s current research examines how linguistically-inclusive teaching practices – that sustain students’ cultural identities and expand their language skills – can be implemented across K-12 school settings. At the elementary level, she is working with Kindergarten to Grade 5 teachers to design multilingual, project-based learning activities across subject areas including Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts. At the middle and high school level, she is working to support Master’s-level teacher candidates and their students through designing activities that bring more intercultural understanding and multilingual awareness to the classroom.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT GAIL PRASAD'S RESEARCH:
About the Pat Clifford Award
Pat Clifford was one of the co-founders of The Galileo Educational Network, which is based in Calgary, Alberta. Pat had an extensive teaching background from primary through graduate level, and was the recipient of numerous awards for both research and teaching practice. Pat passed away in August of 2008 but she left a gift to us in her teaching, scholarly writing, poetry and stories. As a teacher, Pat was steadfast in her belief that each child had the right to succeed brilliantly, and brought to them her own love of literature, writing and history. This award is dedicated to her memory.
The current award holder:
Dr. Gail Prasad