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An Ecology of Heritage Language Umbrella Organizations: Developing Collaborative Practices between Iceland and Canada



Parents who wish their children to learn non-official languages often enroll them in heritage language schools which operate outside of the traditional, formal, state-sponsored educational environment. These schools are typically established by immigrant parents or by community leaders who feel children are losing their language from the country of origin. Since these schools operate independently, their structure, formality, instructional quality, and teachers vary considerably. In efforts to improve language school quality, two independent organizations, the International and Heritage Languages Organization (IHLA) in Alberta, Canada, and Móðurmál - the Association on Bilingualism (Móðurmál) in Reykjavík, Iceland, began to assist heritage language schools in their efforts, to promote the work of heritage language communities to educational authorities and to enhance the quality of language education. While the needs of heritage language schools and teachers are somewhat known, institutional practice in the field of heritage language instruction has received little attention in research (Carreira 2014). While this statement is true of the organization of schools themselves, it is especially true of the umbrella organizations which support and guide them. This paper uses Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System Theory (1975) and Action Research (Hendricks 2017) to compare two umbrella language organizations on different continents and to explore how collaborative practices have enhanced learning and professionalism. In particular, IHLA and Móðurmál demonstrate how the sharing of ideas has led to increased learning opportunities for students, professional development for teachers, international sharing and networking, the strengthening of organizational structures of umbrella language organizations, and goal-setting and planning for language policy development.
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... Together, they offer a rich background to the students' perspectives on language use, their school experience, positioning, and identity negotiation in their closest environments. I draw extensively on the work of Piccardo (2013Piccardo ( , 2017 and Piccardo and North (2020) to discuss the theoretical underpinnings of plurilingualism, works of Cummins (2012Cummins ( , 2014aCummins ( , 2014b, Cummins and Early (2011) and García (García et al., 2017;García & Kleifgen, 2018;García & Wei, 2014a) to answer questions about empowering pedagogies, the work of Spolsky (2005), Schwartz (2010) and De Houwer (2017 to address family language practices and policies, the work of Aberdeen (Aberdeen, 2016;Emilsson Peskova & Aberdeen, 2020) and Emilsson Peskova and Ragnarsdóttir (2016; about heritage language teachers and education, and the writing of Norton (2013), Miller (2004), Giampapa (2014) and Dressler (2014) about linguistic identities of plurilingual students. I address the discourse on power and language in formal, non-formal, and informal settings from the points of view of Banks (2009), Nieto (2010), and Weber (2015, to show how language learning and use are closely tied to societal and political influences. ...
... Efforts to promote community HLs through after-school or weekend programs have a long tradition in the United States of America, Canada, and Scandinavian countries while in Iceland they started to operate first in the 1990s with increased immigration (Aberdeen, 2016;Emilsson Peskova & Aberdeen, 2020;Salö et al., 2018;Wiley & Valdés, 2000). According to Emilsson Peskova and Aberdeen (2020), community HL schools respond to the need of plurilingual families to withhold the connection with the family language. ...
... The parents' power to develop their children's high level of HL and literacy is limited by their time, resources, and determination (Emilsson Peskova & Suson Jónsdóttir, 2019), as well as external factors. The existence and sustainability of the community HL schools are fragile (Aberdeen, 2016;Emilsson Peskova & Aberdeen, 2020), and immigrant families' situations can change quickly. Filipina withdrew Jackson from the Polish HL school for the sake of her family's finances. ...
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As immigration to Iceland increased in the past decades, the demography in schools changed as well. Students in compulsory schools speak around one hundred different languages. Large-scale testing shows continuous alarmingly low results of students with an immigrant background and their high drop-out rates from upper secondary schools. The objective of this study was to explore the interplay of plurilingual students’ linguistic repertoires and their school experience. This qualitative research explored plurilingual students’ perspectives about the use, the meanings, and the roles of their linguistic repertoires in their social and academic settings. To answer the main research question, How is the interplay between the plurilingual students’ linguistic repertoire and their school experience?, the study further sought to answer what the plurilingual students reported on their use of their linguistic repertoires, how they described their school experience, to what extent their educators reflected and built upon the plurilingual students’ resources, and what roles family language policies played in the students’ school experience. The participants were five plurilingual compulsory school students from Iceland who learned their heritage language (HL) in community HL schools. They were nine to twelve years old, the age when they start to explore and shape their linguistic identities, their peers become increasingly important in their lives, and formal studies become increasingly demanding. The students’ perspectives about their school experience and their linguistic repertoires were complemented by the perspectives of their parents, HL teachers, and class teachers in compulsory schools. Students’ plurilingualism (Council of Europe, 2007; Piccardo, 2017), develops in many learning spaces (Cummins, 2014; Ragnarsdóttir & Kulbrandstad, 2018), and more so when these spaces connect, interact, and inform each other (Gay, 2000). While competencies in the majority languages and foreign languages are developed in school settings and in compliance with national curricula, the development of literacies in HL often lacks the sustainability and support of mainstream establishments (Aberdeen, 2016). The interdisciplinary research was carried out between 2013 and 2020. The methodology was qualitative and rooted in the socio-constructivist paradigm. The multiple case study design allowed for a close view of plurilingual students’ linguistic repertoires and school experiences. Thematic analysis (Braun et al., 2015) and language portraits (Busch, 2012; Dressler, 2014) were employed as analytical tools. Ethical rules of the University of Iceland, and those generally observed in qualitative research and research with sensitive participants (immigrants, children), were thoroughly observed throughout the whole PhD process. The findings illustrate that the interplay of the plurilingual students’ linguistic repertoires and their school experience takes place within the plurilingual students, in their linguistic identity negotiations, and in their learning spaces where they strive to experience wellbeing and educational success. The students in the study navigated their social and educational settings and drew on their linguistic repertoires with ease and bravura, cleverly adjusting to circumstances. Highly motivated, proactive parents and HL teachers complemented compulsory schools in supporting students’ linguistic repertoires, thus creating together circumstances that allowed plurilingual students to feel well and do well academically. This study illustrates the importance of all languages for the students, the need to identify appropriate pedagogies and adjust school language policies, and for the families to shape their language policies. The findings suggest recognizing students’ plurilingualism and utilizing their whole linguistic repertoire in their educational and social settings, thus strengthening students’ self-image, a sense of belonging, and participation. The findings further contribute to the understanding of the shared roles and responsibilities of immigrant parents and educators to maintain and develop plurilingual students’ linguistic repertoires. Students’ plurilingualism is always present and active in their lives. Schools represent a diverse, democratic society and prepare students for their future professions and participation in society. Inclusive, multicultural schools should reflect all students’ voices and linguistic needs. This study establishes links among family language policies, HL learning, and compulsory schools. It suggests further research into plurilingual, empowering pedagogies that build on students’ linguistic resources, a respectful collaboration of educators and immigrant parents, and in a broader sense, understanding plurilingualism as the norm and recognizing the equal value of all languages in schools and societies.
... Moreover, the common pursuit of HL maintenance is what creates a community among families, teachers, administrators, volunteers, and supporters of HL schools. They engage in collaboration and partnership to sustain the multifaceted work of HL schools, from language instruction to assistance with immigrant integration (Aberdeen & Emilsson Peskova 2020). ...
... Prior to the pandemic, HL schools in Alberta, Canada functioned mainly as land-based community organisations, interconnecting local people with a common goal. They faced challenges that were often linked to the location of their programming, such as availability and affordability of teaching spaces, recruitment and retention of locally available volunteers and qualified teachers, lack of recognition of the value of HL teaching and learning within the wider society, and the resulting difficulty accessing reliable funding (Aberdeen and Emilsson Peskova 2020). With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures, HL schools assumed an active role in fighting the pandemic-induced challenges within their local communities (Paulovicova, Emilsson Peskova, and McCabe, forthcoming). ...
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