Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Margaret Gebhard

Second Advisor

Gonen Dori-Hacohen

Third Advisor

Elizabeth McEneaney

Fourth Advisor

Darrell Earnest

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Curriculum and Instruction | Elementary Education | Elementary Education and Teaching | Language and Literacy Education | Science and Mathematics Education


This study explores how an elementary mathematics teacher supported English language leaners’ (ELLs’) academic language and concept development in the context of current high- stakes school reform. The conceptual frameworks informing this study include Halliday’s theory of systemic functional linguistics (e.g., Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014) and Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of concept development (Vygotsky, 1986). Specifically, this study analyzes the interplay between academic and everyday language and how this interplay can facilitate the development of what Vygotsky referred to as “real” or complete concepts as students shift from “spontaneous” to more “scientific” understanding of phenomenon (Vygotsky, 1986, p.173). This year-long qualitative study combines case study methods with discourse analysis using SFL tools. Participants included an English-as-Second-Language teacher and her 14 ELL students. At the time of the study these students had varying degrees of English proficiency and were enrolled in a mix-aged classroom in an urban elementary school in Massachusetts. In SFL terms, the findings from this investigation indicate that the teacher used language in a structured way to interweave everyday language connected with familiar or “Given” information with academic language regarding “New” information. In addition, the data suggest that student talk, over time, mirrored the way the teacher used language to “bind” everyday language representing spontaneous concepts with academic language representing mathematical concepts. Moreover, mathematics classroom discourse in this context often related multiple semiotic resources as “Token” to their meanings as “Value.” Drawing Halliday and Matthiessen’ (2014) concept of “decoding” and “encoding” activities associated with Token-Value relationships, students were guided in verbalizing mathematical reasoning that promoted both spontaneous and scientific concept development. In addition, the participant teacher made linguistic choices differently depending on the multisemiotic resources she used during instruction. The findings of this study suggest that teachers’ use of language plays a pivotal role in developing students’ language and mathematical conceptual knowledge simultaneously. Drawing teachers’ attention to the role discourse plays in classroom interactions and students’ disciplinary literacy development is especially consequential given the discourses of high-stakes testing, standardization, and accountability systems in K-12 schools in the United States.