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STUDENT RESEARCH PROFILE: Gail Prasad
Degree & Year: Master of Arts, Year 1
Program: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning; Comparative, International Development Education
Department: Second Language Education
Advisor: Normand Labrie
Why you picked OISE: Last winter, I applied to a number of different programmes across Canada and visited each campus and the proposed faculty before making a decision. In the spring, I met Normand Labrie, my current faculty advisor at OISE, and I quickly recognized that OISE offered me the greatest opportunity to engage with leading researchers in my areas of interest. Studying at OISE also provides access to a wide selection of courses and resources including the extensive OISE library network and research centres such as the Modern Language Centre and CREFO.   In addition, OISE is unique in the opportunity it presents to combine my interests and my experience working in international contexts through the collaborative Comparative, International and Development education program. In short, OISE has proven to be an ideal fit: exceptional faculty, a diverse and vibrant graduate student community, and the resources and support I need to help me clarify my research interests and prepare me for further doctoral study.
 
Name of your award: Master’s Canadian Graduate Scholarship SSHRC, 2007/2008; William Pakenham Fellowship in Education, OISE 2007/2008
 
Thesis/research project: Second-language literacy development and practices in elementary multilingual classrooms
 
The idea: My proposed thesis will investigate how learning to read in a second or additional language before learning to read in a learner’s first language affects a learner’s literacy development. My empirical work will involve a qualitative study of the literacy practices of L2 emergent readers from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the context of shared English and French elementary classrooms.
 
Background: I am from an Indian – Japanese Canadian background. My cultural background has led to a fascination with culture, language and the construction and valuation of identity. I completed my BAH in English Literature and my BEd in primary-junior education with a focus in French as a second language. Over the past 3 years, I worked at a French International school as an elementary English language and literacy teacher. My experience working with multilingual international and Canadian students, particularly at the k-2 level, has sparked many questions within me regarding literacy development and home language maintenance.   This past summer, I was involved in teacher-development in Kenya, working with an HIV/AIDS orphanage and a girls’ rehabilitation centre for girls who have been rescued from the sex-trade. Issues surrounding second or additional language literacy development were also pertinent in these Kenyan contexts, because schooling at the elementary level in Kenya functions in English and Kiswahili and yet many of the children involved in these projects come from other linguistic backgrounds.
 
Your work: I am currently in the first year of my MA and am completing course work in second language education and comparative, international, development education.   I am particularly interested in the discursive development of the “ecology of languages” paradigm and its implications for language planning and policy in an age of globalization. In the Canadian context, I am looking at how teachers’ additive or subtractive attitudes to language instruction affect multilingual learners’ literacy development. During the second year of my MA, the empirical work for my thesis will involve examining the processes in which second language (L2) learners engage as they approach text in a second language and the interactions of a learner’s L1 and L2 in developing literacy skills.
 
The issues: In 2003, Early Reading Strategy: The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario recognized that increasing linguistic diversity among student populations has significant implications for reading instruction. Both English language learners in Anglophone schools and Anglophone or minority language students in French immersion programs are required to develop proficiency in a second language in order to participate successfully in learning across the curriculum. L2 literacy is critical not only during designated language arts instruction, but also to participate meaningfully in science, social studies and other curricular areas for which the language of instruction is the learner’s second language. In an age of globalization, teachers around the world are increasingly facing similar challenges with literacy instruction for students from diverse backgrounds. How can educators create positive space within their learning communities to validate the learners’ linguistic diversity and to facilitate academic success? How can we create eco-linguistic classrooms that promote multilingualism rather than monolingualism?
 
Importance/application: As teachers continue to encounter linguistic diversity in their classrooms, they will continue to be challenged to find ways to bridge learners’ experiences with their first languages and home literacy practices with L2 academic language and school literacy practices. An understanding of the processes undertaken by emergent readers as they struggle to make meaning of a text in a second language will help teachers value the diverse home languages which are represented in their classrooms. In addition, such understanding will also enable educators to find ways to foster positive “eco-linguistic” learning environments and validate L2 students’ first language experience within the classroom.