Date of Award

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Joanna O. Masingila


Bi-/multilinguals, Language practices, Mathematical communication, Refugee high school students, Translanguaging, Word problem solving

Subject Categories



In this study, I examined the practices, resources, and challenges in mathematics word problem solving (MWPS) among the Africa Swahili-speaking refugee high school students in the United States. Specifically, I investigated the language practices and linguistic resources the participants used during MWPS, as well as the linguistic challenges they faced. I also explored the mathematics practices and mathematical resources the participants used as well as the mathematical challenges they faced during MWPS. Lastly, I determined the role of the language practices and/or resources (LPRs) in the participants’ mathematical processes.

To accomplish this study, I used a language background survey (LBS) and task-based interviews which were administered to 12 participants who were selected through criterion purposive sampling technique. The tasks were three problems adopted and modified from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)-released algebra problems. Guided by a Vygotskian perspective of mathematics practices, I allowed the participants a safe translanguaging space as they solved the problems. I then studied how they used their language and mathematics practices, linguistic and mathematical resources, and I noted the linguistic and mathematical challenges they faced in the process.

The analysis revealed that the participants faced various mathematical and linguistic challenges, and they also drew on their LPRs to comprehend the problems, communicate their understanding, develop their mathematics practices, and as a means of identifying with some meaningful social groups. The findings of this study showed that bi-/multilinguals translanguage in mathematics where they use their LPRs in an integrated manner, not in isolation. Since bi-/multilingual students draw on various discursive practices, their mathematics practices are oftentimes informal, making it difficult to demarcate between the students’ everyday and mathematics practices (Barwell, 2013). Also, the findings showed that bi-/multilinguals need support to use the their LPRs in a mathematical sense and to develop more formal mathematical practices.

The findings of this study have implications on the validity of assessments, and how teachers can be prepared to teach bi-/multilinguals, even when they don’t share the students’ home languages. Drawing on the work of Civil (2012) and Sigley and Wilkinson (2015), I argue that valid assessments would have to valorize bi-/multilingual students’ ways of communicating mathematically, even those that may not seem precisely mathematical. Moreover, teachers are to be cognizant of the bi-/multilingual students’ ways of mathematical communication and determine ways they could use those ways to enhance the students’ learning of mathematics. I also present de Jong et al.’s (2013) conceptual framework that can be used to enhance the preparation of mainstream teachers to support ELLs in content areas. This study suggests the need for further research on translanguaging in mathematics classrooms and how teachers can implement pedagogies that support translanguaging to enhance learning. There is also a recommendation for studies investigating the kinds of professional development mainstream mathematics teachers would need to be effective in the instruction and assessment of students whom they don’t share the home language. Also, there is need for further research on how students solve problems and generalize and how they can be supported to develop these processes.


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