Translanguaging: Examining Out-of-School Writing and Identities of African-born, Multilingual, Refugee Adolescents

Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Reading and Language Arts


Louise C. Wilkinson


Adolescent Education, African-born Students, Bi-multilingual Education, Out of School Writing & Literacies, Refugee Education, Translanguaging

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Background/Context: The number of bi-multilingual students who are learning English as an additional language is increasing rapidly in the U.S. schools. These students come from homes with diverse languaging practices, cultures, and nationalities. Previous research has shown that their languaging practices and cultures are viewed by some as the cause of their academic problems, and their identities are viewed as different or deficient. The focus of current research is shifting from viewing bi-multilingual students as deficient to viewing them as learners who bring linguistic and cultural resources from their homes and communities into the formal classrooms. This study is based on the understanding that bi-multilinguals possess linguistic and cultural resources, as well as prior knowledge and skills, that they utilize to support their writing both inside and outside of the classroom.

Focus of the Study: I integrated the Vygotskian sociocultural perspective including the funds of identity concept, and the concept of translanguaging to frame an investigation of the languaging practices of eight bi-multilingual, adolescent, refugees from an African Swahili-speaking refugee community in the northeastern U.S. Specifically, I studied how eight female, African-born, bi-multilingual, refugee adolescents drew from their multiple social, linguistic, and cultural resources to produce authentic, multilingual texts; and in addition, I investigated how they perceived themselves as writers.

Research Design: I grounded this study in a social constructivist perspective of qualitative research with a multicase study design. I relied on qualitative research methods to collect data including expository and narrative texts, journal entries, field notes, and interviews. I collected data in a refugee community center where I allowed participants to freely draw from all their language resources to support their writing and their interviews with me. Data analysis was primarily a qualitative multicase analysis. In this dissertation, I report and interpret the data in qualitative narratives.

Findings: The findings revealed that the participants drew from their “funds of knowledge” to construct and communicate multiple identities. They engaged in meaningful languaging practices such as translanguaging, invention of words, translation and code-switching as they mobilized resources from their linguistic, cultural, historical, and social repertoires to enrich their formulation and composition of original bi-multilingual texts.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings of this study have implications for three areas: (1) bi-multilingualism and schooling, (2) education policy, and (3) further research. First, the findings provide insights for how educators can leverage the language, culture, and skills that bi-multilingual refugee students bring from home to enrich classroom instruction and learning for all students. Second, the findings have the potential to inform existing educational policies regarding immigrant and refugee children and youth, which, for the most part, are grounded in deficit theories. Finally, I suggest that further research could include mixed gender participants and examine if both male and female adolescents draw from their linguistic, cultural, and historical repertoires in ways similar to those identified in the present study.


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