Current research and projects

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.

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.

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.


Current projects and research projects

Joanna Pfingsthorn and Tim Giesler

The TEACUP project is an Erasmus+ (KA 203, Strategic Partnerschip) project aimed at developing educational modules in the realm of pluilingualism and pluriculturalism. A multinational project-team from the Spanish (University of Córdoba), German (Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg; Universität Bremen), Poland (University of Lower Silesia) and the USA (Texas Woman’s University) collaboratively (re-)designs, evaluates, empirically (re-)tests, digitalizes and documents six educational modules which will e.g. contain a teaching unit, a teacher’s companion and a reflection toolkit. The modules will be made available open access. The project includes several international meetings and an international conference in Bremen in June 2022. The Bremen share of the project funding amounts to ca. €67.000,-.

Joanna Pfingsthorn and Julia Weltgen (FB 12)

European educational policy makers envision the development of communicative competence as the main goal of institutionalized foreign language education (Council of Europe, 2001) and hope for the realization of the Barcelona Summit (2002) “mother tongue + 2” objective. Yet, learning a foreign language often proves challenging, especially to learners with special educational needs, as they experience pedagogical disadvantages because of a range of conditions stemming from biological, environmental, and psychosocial causes. International organizations such as UNESCO and the OECD see this risk and promote the implementation of inclusive education systems that enable all learners to actively engage in learning and reach their potential. However, on a practical level, not all educational systems and agents within them are truly ready to realize such task on a daily basis. In fact, some foreign language teachers even report strong feelings of being overwhelmed and disillusioned with the prospect of offering equal opportunities to all their foreign language students (Dose, 2019).

As a response to this situation, the VInDOW project proposes the development of comprehensive and versatile digital educational modules that demonstrate how the principles of inclusion – in their broad, diversity-oriented interpretation – can be applied in the field of foreign language education. Specifically, the modules combine theoretical, empirical and evidence-based knowledge, as well as insights from language teaching practice with educational policy guidelines about the following topics:

  1. Dyslexia and reading skills in the FL classroom
  2. Social, emotional and linguistic challenges in spoken FL communication 3. Multilingual/multicultural challenges in FL classrooms
  3. Autism in the FL classroom
  4. Neurodiversity as a challenge in the FL classroom

The Bremen team acts as the project coordinator. 

Joanna Pfingsthorn and Ana Rovai

The project investigates the extent to which foreign language teachers show positive, neutral or a negative implicit attitudes towards different forms of learner diversity in the foreign language classroom and thereby also their ability to adopt the general principles of inclusive education in specific local foreign language teaching contexts. An implicit attitude is a psychological construct, defined as a broad favorable or unfavorable evaluation of an object that is introspectively unidentified or inaccurately identified. Such evaluations are generally conducted without conscious awareness (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995, p. 5), but they can influence behavioral predispositions towards the object (e.g. Gawronski & Payne, 2010). Given that certain neurocognitive, affective, linguistic and personality traits have been identified as detrimental to successful foreign language learning (e.g. Ganschow & Sparks, 1995; Nunan, 1995; Ushioda, 2008), it is conceivable that foreign language teachers evaluate those traits as more positive than other attributes that are correlated with less success, at least unconsciously and/or to some extent. If this is the case, they rely on varying positive and negative (implicit) attitudes towards different learner characteristics or forms of learner diversity, which in turn can lead to group stigmatization. This is not congruent with the fundamental assumptions of inclusive education, which call for educational systems that accommodate all learners (Clough & Corbett, 2000; Frederickson & Cline, 2009) and make participation and engagement in education accessible to all (Smith, 2008). This implies that teachers need to align not only their subject skills and knowledge to match those principles, but also their fundamental attitudes.

  • Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff
  • Dr. Claudia Fenzl
  • Prof. Dr. Alisha M. B. Heinemann
  • Prof. Dr. Falk Howe
  • Lisa Meyne
  • Ana Rovai 
  • Michael Sander
  • Dr. Andreas Saniter
  • Saman A. Sarabi
  • Nils Weinowski

The SteBs project pursues the overarching aim of structurally strengthening and further expanding vocational teacher training in Bremen and thus contributing to the Bremen vocational training dialogue. On the basis of a cross-phase and cross-subject cooperation between the actors involved in vocational teacher training, concepts for the promotion of professional competence in line with the didactical paradigm of a complete action of teachers are developed and tested.

With the overarching goal of "structural development for vocational teacher training", the SteBs project relates both to cooperation within university-based teacher training and to cooperation within the Bremen vocational training landscape. To this end, it focuses on six central points:

  1. Interdisciplinary cooperation in vocational teacher education: An interdepartmental cooperation between different university faculties responsible for vocational teacher education is to be established.
  2. Cross-phase vocational teacher training: Representatives from the university, the state institute for schools, the education authority and the vocational schools should coordinate both on an institutional and on a content-related conceptual level.
  3. Regional vocational training dialogue: Cooperation structures in vocational teacher training in Bremen with the relevant actors (e.g., vocational schools, the State Institute for Schools, chambers, social partners, companies) are to be established and made permanent.
  4. Linking vocational and general teacher training: Curricular and didactic coordination between the two areas of teacher education should exploit the potential for learning from each other.
  5. Digital competencies in vocational teacher education: Media competence as a key competence for (prospective) teachers is to be systematically promoted across all phases of vocational teacher training.
  6. Heterogeneity in vocational teacher training: Pedagogical professionalism in dealing with heterogeneous learning groups among (prospective) teachers is to be developed.


Heather Haase

English has many different national and regional varieties, and its function as a global lingua franca has led to an increase in second-language and foreign-language speakers. In many English classrooms across Germany, however, there still tends to be a focus on the standard British and/or American variety, which does not reflect the linguistic diversity that students will most likely encounter outside of the classroom. 

To better equip learners of English for interactions with English speakers (both native and non-native speakers) all over the world, they need to be exposed to and made aware of different varieties of the language. The project “Varieties of English in Foreign Language Teacher Education” aims to prepare future English teachers for the changing needs of their students by integrating linguistics, English language education and practical teaching experience.
More specifically, education students attend two seminars regarding Global Englishes in the winter semester. In the linguistics seminar, they get an overview of, for example, the spread of English and of important models and theories before zooming in on specific varieties.   In the English language education seminar, students discuss norms and variation in the ELT classroom as well as how to apply their linguistic knowledge from the other seminar when planning a lesson on varieties. Towards the end of the semester, students design and carry out teaching projects to introduce various topics related to Global Englishes in the English language classroom. This practical teaching component takes place at one of our partner schools. 

“Varieties of English in Foreign Language Teacher Education” is part of the superordinate project “Digi-Spotlights”, which aims to reduce fragmentation in higher education teacher training by creating innovative teaching formats that dovetail subject matter courses with subject matter didactics courses.

Varieties of English in Foreign Language Teacher Education — digital