Critical Approaches to Heritage Language Education:
Centering Identities, Race, and Power in Language Reclamation

July 17–21, 2023
1-week in-person summer institute

J. Eik Diggs, Jenna Cushing-Leubner,
and Aracely Thomas

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 youths 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 (e.g., institutional racism, impacts of colonialism, and linguistic xenophobia). Participants will then examine critical and transformational pedagogical approaches that create rich and fertile spaces to regenerate language confidence and connections to community and familial knowledge and strengths. By redesigning language learning environments and curriculum in ways that focus on personal, complex, and collective identities, as well as real-world issues that matter to youth, educators can create spaces for language and literacy to flourish. This is essential for heritage language reclamation and growth.  

Participants will explore ways of giving students the opportunity to use, learn, and expand on their heritage languages. This institute will use identity work as a major tool for heritage language education, connecting it 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 Education Using Critical Pedagogies
Day 2 Curriculum Development: Identity Texts
  • Identity Texts and Language Confidence
  • Multimodal Identity Texts
Day 3 (Heritage) Language Arts Teaching
  • Using a Language Arts Approach
  • Arts-Based Language Approaches
Day 4 Curriculum Development: Communities and Content
  • Community-Based Learning
  • Youth-Led Participatory Action Research & Critical Service Learning
Day 5 Teaching and Learning Together
  • Unpacking Language Ideologies
  • Race and Ethnic Studies Content and Pedagogies

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 an Associate Professor of World/Heritage/Bilingual and ESL Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and has been collaborating with heritage language educators and families to design curriculum, texts, and instructional practices for over a decade. She is the creator and coordinator of the heritage language education professional development programming offered online and in person, and the co-convener of Lub Zej Zog’s Hmong Language Reclamation Project.

J. Eik Diggs is a PhD student at the University of Arizona and a licensed Spanish language and ESL teacher with over a decade 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.

Aracely Thomas (guest instructor) is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota and a licensed Spanish language teacher with over a decade of experience as a heritage language teacher and program advocate. She developed and taught a high school Spanish heritage language program in Farmington, MN, integrating Freirian pedagogies with current events, arts-based language arts, and gender-conscious curriculum.

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

Priority Teacher Professional Development Scholarship Program–NEW!

Logo - PriorityThe Priority Teacher Professional Development Scholarship program is designed to promote equity and access to affordable professional development for world language educators who are currently teaching at a Community College, Minority Serving Institution, or Historically Black College/University in the United States and/or are currently teaching a Less Commonly Taught Language in the United States. The program provides funding for selected teachers in these categories to attend a CARLA Summer Institute for no charge.

Learn more and apply by March 17, 2023 on the Priority Teacher Professional Development Scholarship website.

Quote MarksRight quote marksThe knowledge shared around ideas for Heritage classes was both transformational and inspirational. Thank you for this opportunity, it was the highlight of my summer.
Barbara Davis, 2022 Institute Participant
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Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414