Desiree Pallais-Downing

Photo of faculty member Desiree  Pallais-Downing
Assistant Professor of Instruction-CURR, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Phone: +1 512 970 1591
Office: SZB 4.318C
Office Hours: by appointment
View Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Pallais has been a university instructor, an international 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, Research Methods and Design and Reading and Writing methods courses. Dr. Pallais is clinical faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching graduate and undergraduate students and is also the coordinator of a bilingual pre-service teacher cohort.

Desirée Pallais started her career in education as an alternative teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The "Group School" was created to serve students from working-class backgrounds. Her Boston experience included teaching Spanish and English to adults, and working as a simultaneous translator for a variety of non-profit organizations. In her native Nicaragua, she founded an innovative bilingual school that was one of the first in Nicaragua to introduce computer instruction based on the ideas of Seymour Pappert, a disciple of Piaget. There, she taught children 3-15 years of age for five years. "Lo Pequeño es Bello" put students' productions and student-centered teaching at the center of its philosophy. Pallais received an award from the parent community and a scholarship to pursue a Masters at the Universidad de Salamanca, Spain, which evaluated and expanded the curriculum experience.

Upon returning from Spain, in 1998, Pallais worked as a national consultant with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She moved to Austin, Texas, in 1999 where she obtained a Masters in Program Evaluation from the University of Texas in 2004. She immediately became part of the Reading First team at the Vaughn Gross Center, visiting bilingual schools as part of technical assistance and professional development efforts. Her advocacy work with Spanish-speaking communities in literacy was born from that experience. Between 2014 and 2015, she obtained a post-graduate specialization in reading instruction, graduating with the highest grade from the first international cohort participating at the Universidad de la Laguna, Tenerife, Spain. Between 2012 and 2015, Pallais did international research and evaluation work in literacy, and implemented service activities in a variety of multilingual and indigenous communities, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.

In 2015, she joined the Bilingual/Bicultural program to pursue a Ph.D. She defended her dissertation in December of 2019. Her dissertation 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 respond to mainstream visions about academic Spanish and about literacy teaching sedimented historically and systemically 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). The results highlight the potential of teacher education contexts that focus on strengths, rather than on deficit paradigms.

She has been a board member of OLI, an Online Learning Initiative founded by Dr. Felix Alvarado that supports teachers' curriculum implementation in Guatemala and in Latin America. In addition, she participates in research and publication initiatives with international scholars from a variety of backgrounds who are associated with the Literacy Research Association (LRA) conference.