Critical Approaches to Heritage Language Education


July 12–16, 2021
Synchronous* 1-week summer instituteFull!

J. Eik Diggs and Jenna Cushing-Leubner

Teaching heritage language learners is not the same as teaching new language learners. Heritage languages are languages other than English that are spoken in homes, communities, and extended families. Many heritage language learners come from vibrant multilingual contexts. Because most U.S. schools are English-dominant and few have bilingual/biliteracy options, most youth don’t have access to expanding their heritage languages (and literacy in them) at school. 

This institute advocates critical approaches to heritage language education that start by identifying the ways that heritage learners have been denied access to the natural development of bilingualism and biliteracy. These approaches create rich and fertile spaces to regenerate relationships and connections to knowledge. They also generate abundance in language, literacy, personal and collective identities, and complex explorations of issues that matter to youth.  

Participants will begin by exploring ways of  giving students the opportunity to use, learn, and expand on their heritage languages. Using identity work as a major tool for heritage language education, this institute will link identity work with social justice topics, community-based learning, and language arts approaches for growing heritage languages and literacies. Participants will collaborate; connect personal and professional experiences to research on culturally sustaining multilingualism; and learn how to bring communities, classrooms, and storytelling together to create powerful heritage language learning environments.

Program Schedule (9am–4pm)
Day 1 Knowing Our Languages and Learners
  • Who are Heritage Language Speakers/Learners?
  • Heritage vs. Foreign Language Learning
  • Principles of Heritage Language Instruction
Day 2 Curriculum Development: Identity Texts
  • Identity Texts
  • Multimodal Texts
Day 3 Curriculum Development: Communities & Content
  • Community-Connected Learning
  • Youth-Led Participatory Action Research & Critical Service Learning
Day 4 Language Arts and Advocacy
  • Using a Language Arts Approach
  • Arts-Based Language Approaches
  • State Seals of Multilingualism
Day 5 Teaching and Learning Together
  • Collaborative Unit/Lesson Creation
  • Heritage Language Teaching Cohorts

After this institute, you will be able to:

  • Recognize who our heritage language learners are;
  • Identify ways to maintain and strengthen multilingualism, public voice, and literacy confidence;

  • Understand various youth-driven pedagogical models to support heritage learners and facilitate school-community engagement and partnerships;

  • Utilize multimodal tools and techniques to create heritage language specific texts and materials; and

  • Apply identity texts as an approach to generate and recognize language growth.


Jenna Cushing-Leubner is Assistant Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and coordinator of the World and Heritage Languages Education licensure program, where she also teaches in the ESL and Bilingual/Bicultural education program. She taught in bilingual and ESL contexts for 12 years and has spent the last ten years working with teachers, youth, and community members to create Spanish and Hmong heritage language classes and ESL classes that emphasize multilingualism, social justice, youth research, and transformative learning environments. She is the creator and coordinator of a web-based certificate and additional licensure program in Heritage Language Education through UW-Whitewater.

J. Eik Diggs is a licensed Spanish language and ESL teacher with eight years of experience with heritage language curriculum design and teaching. She developed and taught a multi-year high school Spanish as a Heritage Language program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, infusing ethnic studies, the arts, identity work, and youth participatory action research. She anchors her language teaching in intra-ethnic studies and social justice content, and focuses on developing young people who are strong in their multiple identities and backgrounds. She is a PhD student at the University of Arizona, where she is working with school and community partners to develop Grow Your Own initiatives to increase the numbers of socially-conscious multilingual teachers of color.

Target Audience
This institute is designed for teachers of heritage language, foreign language, Indigenous language, and English as a Second Language at the middle school through postsecondary level. It is not designed for the elementary school level.


  • This synchronous online institute will run from 9 am-4 pm (Central Time). The schedule includes many synchronous presentations throughout the day as well as time for independent or partner/group work and a break for lunch.
  • You must be available to participate for the entire day Monday—Friday.
  • Make sure you can meet the tech requirements for this institute.
  • While this institute will be offered online in 2021, we intend to offer it face-to-face in 2022. If you can only take it online, you are encouraged to enroll this summer.

Quote MarksRight quote marksAs a veteran heritage language teacher, this Institute was extremely valuable to me. It gave me so many great fresh ideas to use in my class, all based in solid pedagogical theory and research. I have been challenged to reexamine my class and rededicate myself to making my classroom a welcoming place where my students can learn deeply and critically about themselves, their culture and their language.
Tim Leone-Getten, 2020 Participant
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