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PhD theses

Ongoing PhD projects

Multimodality – A Key Principle of Inclusive ELT? Utilizing Multimodal Texts as a Gemeinsamen Gegenstand in English Language Education at the Primary Level

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Frank J. Müller, Dr. Tim Giesler

Every student should have access to English language education at an early age. But this need is still not acknowledged for everyone. Specifically, students with so-called “special needs“ are often separated from the class during English lessons to focus on other aspects of their education. This exclusion may stem from teachers feeling overwhelmed and unqualified to provide English language education that is beneficial to everyone in a heterogeneous classroom (Köpfer & Kurz 2017). To combat this problem and generate ideas for possible solutions, more concepts for inclusive English language teaching (ELT) need to be developed and tested in practical environments.

This PhD project focuses on this central challenge and aims to provide empirical insights into the design of inclusive teaching units and learning environments for early English language education as well as contribute to theory-building for inclusive ELT at the primary level. The research focuses on the inclusive potential of multimodal literary texts in ELT and how they might be used to provide individualized learning opportunities that reflect each pupil’s current developmental level while maintaining communal learning with classmates. By employing a design-based research approach, the project explores how multimodality can be developed as a design principle to engage with storylines/narratives as a common subject that is shared by all students of varied developmental levels and skills (Gemeinsamer Gegenstand (Feuser 1995)) in inclusive ELT. Per design research methodology, the research incorporates a cyclic approach of design, application, evaluation, and revision in order to not only gain theoretical insights but to also achieve utility for users in practical contexts. Therefore, developing an integrated design model as a planning aid for practitioners is also a key goal of the project.

This dissertation is part of the graduate program “Duale Promotion”, wherein the research is conducted during teacher training. Three teaching units will be designed and conducted in two groups (3rd and later 4th grade) plus one reference group at a different school. Data is acquired via participant observation (memory log and videography) as well as interviews with educators and students.



Feuser, Georg. Behinderte Kinder und Jugendliche. Zwischen Integration und Aussonderung. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995.

Köpfer, Andreas and Jürgen Kurtz. „Inklusion – eine Überforderung des Fremdsprachenunterrichts?“ Fremdsprachen lehren und lernen, vol. 46, no. 2, 2017, pp. 136-137.



Using Russian when learning English? How learners experience the integration of plurilingualism in the EFL-classroom.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff, Prof. Dr. Lukas Eibensteiner

German classrooms can be considered a linguistically diverse place: Many students grow up plurilingual, speaking other foreign or heritage languages in addition to German. The European Language Policy suggests to integrate these languages into foreign language teaching (Council of Europe 2001: 4-5): By doing so, synergies between languages can be used to economise learning in the target language. Moreover, the integration of the learners’ linguistic repertoires is seen as a tool to foster language learning motivation and to empower students. Despite these potentials, studies indicate that current foreign language teaching only scarcely uses the leaners’ plurilingualism as a resource (e.g. Heyder & Schädlich 2015, Jakisch 2015). Related to this, there exists only little empirical research on how learners actually experience the integration of their language repertoires in class and to what extent the aforementioned potentials can be fulfilled (Heyder & Schädlich 2015: 246, Bredthauer 2018: 284). This state is addressed by the following dissertation project: On classroom level, the project aims at systematically integrating the learners’ plurilingualism into teaching practice through the design and conduction of a plurilingual teaching unit (mehrsprachigkeitsdidaktische Unterrichtseinheit) in the EFL-classroom. On research level, the projects empirically explores how this incorporation is experienced by learners using an explorative-interpretative research approach. To find out how the students perceived the integration of plurilingualism, the teaching unit was conducted in two classes (7th and 10th grade of an Oberschule). Subsequently, 33 semi-structured interviews were conducted with the students who participated in the teaching unit.



Bredthauer, Stefanie. „Mehrsprachigkeitsdidaktik an deutschen Schulen – eine Zwischenbilanz.“ DDS – Die Deutsche Schule, vol 3, 2018, pp. 275-286.

Council of Europe. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Heyder, Karolin, and Schädlich, Birgit. „Herkunftsbedingte Mehrsprachigkeit und Fremdsprachenunterricht: Eine Befragung von Lehrern in Niedersachsen.“ Herkunftsbedingte Mehrsprachigkeit im Unterricht der romanischen Sprachen, edited by Eva Maria Fernández Ammann, Amina Kropp and Johannes Müller-Lancé, 2015, Frank & Timme, pp. 233-251.

Jakisch, Jenny. Mehrsprachigkeit und Englischunterricht. Fachdidaktische Perspektiven, schulpraktische Sichtweisen. Peter Lang, 2015.

(Title in progress)

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff, Prof. Dr. Marcus Callies

As part of her doctoral thesis, Irina Pavlović is researching the teaching of pronunciation, in further consequence of which she focuses on the phonetic/phonological error in the context of ELT. In the light of modern-day teaching paradigms, yet adopting as neutral as possible a position, the thesis examines how English teachers at different stages of their professional development “diagnose and treat” phonetically/phonologically motivated errors. To this end, think-aloud protocols and subsequent stimulated recalls are employed as research methods to gather data and gain insight into the cognitive processes that take place when analyzing such errors. Possible inferences drawn from the analysis could involve or touch upon the realm of multilingualism, sociophonetics and linguicism, without constituting a particular emphasis of the thesis.

The professional self-concept of pre-service English language teachers and the demands of inclusive education: a case-study analysis.
(working title)

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff, Dr. Joanna Pfingsthorn

In the context of English language education, inclusion is broadly defined as the process of dismantling barriers to increase learning accessibility to all (Rossa, 2015). Still, inclusion in Germany is embedded in contradictions resulting from the ideals of equity and participation on the one hand and the historically robust system of educational stratification on the other (Weisser, 2018). At the subject-specific level, teachers face antinomies linked to the need to accommodate individual abilities while at the same time assessing learners in terms of normative expectations of performance (Hackbarth & Martens, 2018). Additionally, dominant didactic theories and routines that have informed English teacher education and curricula in the last decades may not meet the requirements of inclusive education and need thus to be reevaluated (Pfingsthorn, in press). Given this background, this dissertation project is concerned with pre-service English language teachers' professional self-conceptualization in terms of how they interpret their roles as inclusive teachers in the tension between the requirements of inclusive education, normative expectations of the school, and professional habitus. The theoretical frame is the structure-biographical profession-theory and the method consists of a reconstructive case-study analysis of narrative interviews.



Hackbarth, Anja and Martens, Matthias. "Inklusiver (Fach-)Unterricht: Befunde-Konzeptionen-Herausforderungen.“ Handbuch schulische Inklusion, edited by Tanja Sturm and Monika Wagner-Willi, Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2018, pp. 191-206.

Pfingsthorn, Joanna. "Inclusive communicative language teaching: hidden contradictions and overt practical issues.“ The European Journal of Applied Linguistics 2021, in press.

Rossa, Henning. "Lerngelegenheiten im inklusiven Englischunterricht für Schülerinnen und Schüler mit Förderbedarf im Bereich der geistigen Entwicklung.“ Inquiries in language learning, edited by Christiane.M. Bongartz and Andreas Rohde, Peter Lang, 2015, pp. 169-184.

Weisser, Jan. "Inklusion, Fähigkeiten und Disability Studies.“ Handbuch schulische Inklusion, edited by Tanja Sturm and Monika Wagner-Willi, Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2018, pp. 93-110.

Access to multiliteracies: Fostering multiliteracies with a teaching and learning sequence on Street Art in the heterogeneous EFL classroom. A Design-Based Research Study.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff, Prof. Dr. Henriette Dausend

Inspired by Anglo-American publications (e.g. The New London Group 1996), multiliteracies have been discussed as important target dimensions of modern foreign language teaching since the 2000s. Multiliteracies include a multitude of literacies such as functional, multimodal, visual and digital literacies (Elsner & Viebrock 2013). These literacies should enable learners to decode, negotiate and productively expand visual and multimodal texts, which are increasingly part of their life worlds. In the field of German Fremdsprachendidaktik one can find several conceptual ideas for fostering multiliteracies in the EFL classroom (e.g. Dausend 2013; Matz & Rogge 2014). However, these approaches have often not yet been tried out and systematically researched in authentic school settings. The PhD project fills this research gap by designing, implementing, evaluating, and revising a teaching and learning sequence that aims at fostering multiliteracies in heterogeneous classes at lower secondary level. The lesson sequence deals with Street Art as an alternative, multimodal “meaning-making system” (Mills 2006: 1). Street Art is a controversial medium, which illegally modifies public spaces, but also visually protests and communicates with local passers-by and global internet users. Furthermore, the genre is highly multimodal – Street Artists use different materials, environments and visual as well as linguistic and spatial modes to create meaning and add new perspectives to current social discourses. It is said that these multimodal compositions offer a unique potential to foster multiliteracies in the EFL classroom (Dausend 2013). The alternative art form was therefore chosen for the didactical design. Following a Design-Based Research approach, the study aims at a dual outcome: First, producing a practical outcome in form of an iteratively constructed, implemented, and empirically evaluated lesson sequence that can be used by other EFL teachers in similar settings and second, generating theoretical output on teaching (with) Street Art and fostering multiliteracies in (heterogeneous) EFL classes.



Dausend, Henriette. “StreeT ART: Forstering Discourse Literacies with Graffiti, Sticker, Stencils, and Paste-ups.” Films, Graphic Novels & Visuals: Developing Multiliteracies in Foreign Language Education - An Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Daniela Elsner, Sissy Helff and Britta Viebrock, Wien, LIT, 2013, pp. 105-120.

Elsner, Daniela and Britta Viebrock. “Developing Multiliteracies in the 21st Century: Motives for New Approaches of Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages”. Films, Graphic Novels & Visuals: Developing Multiliteracies in Foreign Language Education - An Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Daniela Elsner, Sissy Helff and Britta Viebrock, Wien, LIT, 2013, pp. 17–32.

Matz, Frauke and Michael Rogge. “Shakespeare in Shorts: A Multiliteracies Approach to Teaching Shakespeare.” Shakespeare in the EFL Classroom, edited by Maria Eisenmann and Christiane Lütge. Heidelberg, Winter, 2014, pp. 315-330.

Mills, Kathy A. Multiliteracies: a critical ethnography: pedagogy, power, discourse and access to multiliteracies. (PhD thesis) Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, 2006.

The New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 66, no. 1, 1996, p. 60–92.

(Title in progress)

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff

I started to work on an internationally comparative study as my PhD project in 2020. The overall aims of my qualitative case study are to gain a closer understanding of how the professional identity of novice teachers in Germany and Iran is constructed through their professional practice and to describe the connection between their beliefs and their teaching practices. Also, the possible effect of gender on novice teachers' professional identity construction in both countries will be investigated. Comparing these two countries will shed valuable lights in the area of teacher education which could be of great help especially for German and Bremen educational system. My study, firstly, will shed light on the process of how novice teachers in Germany and Iran will construct professional identities. Secondly, the study will add to an existing body of knowledge about the role of a teacher community in shaping professional identity. Thirdly, the exploration of the relationship between beliefs and classroom practice will also contribute to existing knowledge in the area of teachers’ cognition. Fourthly, the findings and data gathered will be useful in developing content for teacher education programs regarding career organization and the exploration of identity, especially in Germany.

Establishing a gender-sensitive classroom by negotiating problem sets with young EFL learners
(working title)

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff

My dissertation project aims to demonstrate the relevance of attributing gender sensitivity as part of character development for young[er] EFL teaching. Although the German Bildungsauftrag requires all teachers to do so, what is missing is not only a reliable and socially current standard that students and their parents can expect but also - and most importantly - a strategy to raise awareness among professionals in the first place. Assuming that gender-sensitive literature instruction leads to gender-sensitive attitudes among adolescents, the need for a renewal of the curriculum in this area becomes critical.  Complementing existing research that focuses primarily on older EFL students, I argue that the degree of gender awareness, and thus the ability to deconstruct stereotypes, is dependent on constant, long-term training. Furthermore, this dissertation project will demonstrate LGBTQ awareness alongside cisgender sensitivity. Using the method of design research, I examine students' attitudes before, during, and after the negotiation of stereotypes in various types of English children's literature or EFL classroom texts. Whether a project-based work environment and real-life simulations enhance the effect compared to a more theoretical approach is also investigated.

Completed PhD projects

Bechler, Sabrina. Bilinguale Module in der Grundschule: Integriertes Inhalts- und Sprachlernen im Fächerverbund Mensch, Natur und Kultur. 2014. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.



Beinke, Alicia. Phonics als Ansatz für den Schriftspracherwerb in der Fremdsprache Englisch. 2020. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.



Giesler, Tim. Die Formation des institutionellen Englischunterrichts: Englisch als erste Fremdsprache in Bremen (1855-1873). 2018. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.



Sass, Annina. Sprachenübergreifendes Vokabellernen: Eine qualitativ-interpretative Studie zur Vernetzung der Fächer Englisch und Latein. 2016. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.



Schindler, Yvonne. Status quo der Kompetenzorientierung im Land Bremen aus der Sicht von Englischlehrkräften. 2017. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.



Schuett, Lena. Second language support programs in Bremen and Alberta under review: How a critical international comparison can benefit education for a multilingual society in Germany. 2015. University of Bremen, PhD dissertation.




Verriere, Katharina. Bilinguale Module im Mathematikunterricht und ihr Einfluss auf die Lernbereitschaft der Schüler/innen für das Sachfach. 2013. Northwestern U, PhD dissertation.



Weis, Katharina, and Eva Martha Eckkrammer. Kulturtransfer auf sprachlicher Ebene am Beispiel von Political Correctness. 2017. University of Mannheim, PhD dissertation.