Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction (PhD)

Degree Level



Curriculum and Instruction


Laura Kent

Committee Member

Janet Penner-Williams

Second Committee Member

Marcia Smith

Third Committee Member

Shannon Dingman


ELLs, English language learners, English as a Second Language, ESL, ESL mathematics, Language of Mathematics, Inquiry Based Learning, Mathematics education, Middle School Mathematics, Translation Activities


This case study followed three Hispanic and three Marshallese students’ participation in a seventh grade pre-algebra unit over the course of four weeks. Pre-assessment items indicated that the students had difficulty with aspects of the mathematics register. Their teacher employed an interpretation of the gradual release model of instruction in which direct strategies for translating word problems into equations with unknowns were modeled prior to students doing similar problems on their own. In these situations, students showed some success in solving similar problems. However, post-assessment results indicated that none of the six students were able to successfully solve open response problems similar to the problems that were covered during the instructional unit. The main difference between the post-assessment problems and the pre- and during instruction problems was that the students were not directed to set up an equation prior to trying to solve the problem. Students were not able to apply procedures related to the mathematics register to solve contextualized problems when they were not given specific methods on how to set up the equations in advance of trying to solve the word problems. They struggled to set up an appropriate equation to represent the situation and appeared bound by the equation used to set up the situation in lieu of another strategy that might have produced a correct answer, underscoring the complexities involved in making sense of algebraic content.