Project Background

Topics of social justice resonate with students across the globe, regardless of their area of study. This is particularly true for language learners, who seek not only to build linguistic proficiency, but also to understand the cultural products, practices, and perspectives of the languages they are studying. CARLA’s Social Justice in Language Education project builds on this reality through its focus on social justice topics across cultures and languages and through the development of students’ language proficiency, intercultural understanding, and career competencies. Consistent with CARLA’s work grounded in praxis, or the relationships between research and practice, the project integrates theoretical principles from:

  • multiliteracies pedagogy (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, 2015; New London Group, 1996);
  • social justice pedagogy (Glynn, Wesely, & Wassell, 2014; Hackman, 2005; Chiariello et al., 2018); and
  • career readiness (College of Liberal Arts, 2020).

These frameworks inform curriculum and instruction that equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to:

  • critically engage with target language texts;
  • identify and evaluate linguistic and cultural differences across societies;
  • challenge and disrupt misconceptions related to social justice topics; and
  • participate fully in personal, academic, professional, and civic life.

The suite of materials developed for the Social Justice in Language Education project reflect these frameworks and support language teachers in their efforts to more fully integrate target language texts and social justice topics into their courses; to critically engage students with those texts through instructional practices; and to prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion in language education. 

This project began in 2020 when CARLA was awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI International Research and Studies Program. This three-year grant supports the development of many of the resources on this website:

  • templates for creating social justice curricular units, assessments, and lesson plans;
  • detailed curricular units in multiple languages;
  • a social justice bibliography containing scholarly and practical resources;
  • a searchable database of target language texts; and
  • webinar recordings.

Many of these materials are published as open educational resources (OERs) to enable teachers to use, adapt, and reshare them to fit their specific needs. 

In addition to creating these materials, the Social Justice in Language Education project leaders are also conducting two research studies:

  1. To address the project’s impact on teachers, the team is investigating how teachers understand and enact social justice in language education and how this understanding and enactment connects to teachers’ identity construction.
  2. To address the project’s impact on students, the team is investigating students’ perceptions of social justice instructional units, the nature of students’ language use during the units, and whether and how the units encourage students to move beyond stereotypical conceptualizations of social justice issues. 

Project Team

The project leaders include four language educators from the University of Minnesota:

  • Project leadersKate Paesani, CARLA
    Project Director
  • Lauren Goodspeed, Department of French & Italian
    Language-Specific Coordinator (Arabic, French, Chinese)
  • Mandy Menke, Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies
    Language-Specific Coordinator (Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish)
  • Helena Ruf, Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch
    Language-Specific Coordinator (Dutch, German, Russian)

Eleven curriculum developers from various universities created the curricular units for the project:

  • Stephanie Anderson, University of Minnesota (Portuguese)
  • Nadya Clayton, University of Minnesota (Russian)
  • Sara Finney, University of Minnesota (Spanish)
  • Ashlie Henery, University of Minnesota (French)
  • Beth Kautz, University of Minnesota (German)
  • Ilknur Lider, University of Pittsburgh (Turkish)
  • Sara Mack, University of Minnesota (Spanish)
  • Jenneke Oosterhoff, University of Minnesota (Dutch)
  • Ginny Steinhagen, University of Minnesota (German)
  • Katrien Vanpee, University of Minnesota (Arabic)
  • Andie Wang, Colby College (Chinese)

The following consultants ensured the integrity of the project:

  • Cassandra Glynn, Concordia College (Social Justice Consultant)
  • Sara Mack, University of Minnesota (Career Readiness Consultant)
  • JD Walker, University of Minnesota (Grant Evaluator)
  • Beth Wassell, Rowan University (Social Justice Consultant)

Finally, both the materials development and research projects were supported by the following students from the University of Minnesota:


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