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.

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.

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.

Text complexity of textbooks used in Germany. A study on the text complexity of biology textbooks used in Germany and the resulting consequences for the CLIL classroom (working title)

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff

Textbooks valiantly hold their position as central (fall-back) media in most school subjects taught in Germany (Sudhoff 2015, p. 271; Hiller 2016, pp. 231–232). In many cases, there is no immediate replacement per subject within one or more years because the selection of a suitable textbook usually requires considerable involvement of the state, school staff, and perhaps even parents and pupils. The pedagogical approach Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), in which a subject is generally taught in a second language for simultaneous content and language learning (Marsh et al. 2010, p. 11; Banegas and Hemmi 2021, p. 291), usually deviates from the commonly used textbook. It instead either uses textbooks specifically developed for the CLIL classroom or “authentic” textbooks from abroad (Hallet 2013, p. 202).

This research project aims to carry out a comparative analysis of biology textbooks with and without CLIL focus within Germany in order to examine them for their text complexity. It is a currently rather unanswered question to what extent the linguistic level of CLIL textbooks is on a similar level with the level of German language textbooks. Answering this question bears importance for current CLIL classrooms, the design of future CLIL textbooks, and to raise awareness of how to deal with textbooks and similar materials in use. It is also planned to develop didactic strategies for dealing with the differences that may be revealed by this project.


Banegas, Darío Luis; Hemmi, Chantal (2021): CLIL: Present and Future. In Chantal Hemmi, Darío Luis Banegas (Eds.): International Perspectives on CLIL. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 281–295.

Hallet, Wolfgang (2013): Kompetenzentwicklung mit Aufgaben und Materialien. In Wolfgang Hallet, Frank G. Königs (Eds.): Handbuch bilingualer Unterricht. Content and language integrated learning. 1. Aufl. Seelze: Klett/Kallmeyer (Reihe Handbücher zur Fremdsprachendidaktik), pp. 202–209.

Hiller, Andreas (2016): Mediale Legitimierungsverfahren für Bildungsmedien durch den Akteur SchuleWirtschaft. In Eva Matthes, Sylvia Schütze (Eds.): Schulbücher auf dem Prüfstand. Bad Heilbrunn: Verlag Julius Klinkhardt (Forschung Klinkhardt), pp. 231–240.

Marsh, David; Mehisto, Peeter; Wolff, Dieter; Frigols, María Jesús (2010): Europäisches Rahmenprogramm für die Ausbildung von CLIL-Lehrkräften. Ein Rahmenprogramm für die professionelle Entwicklung von CLIL-Lehrkräften.

Sudhoff, Julian (2015): Zur Materialentwicklung im bilingualen Sachfachunterricht. In Bernd Rüschoff, Julian Sudhoff, Dieter Wolff (Eds.): CLIL revisited. Eine kritische Analyse zum gegenwärtigen Stand des bilingualen Sachfachunterrichts. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Edition (Forum Angewandte Linguistik, Band 54), pp. 267–288.

Criteria-based literature choice in the EFL classroom – an empirical study. (working title)

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Sabine Doff

Reading and working with literature is a central aspect in German EFL classrooms in the later years of secondary school. This can be both very challenging and very rewarding for students and teachers alike. Teachers and researchers agree that choosing the “right” texts is fundamental for teaching success (Nünning/Surkamp 2006). But how do we know which text to read? In the absence of a canon, required reading lists or detailed curricula the teachers have to make this decision for every class they teach (Kirchhoff 2019). German EFL researchers have made numerous suggestions for criteria on which teachers can base this decision (Fernengel 2003, Nünning/Surkamp 2006, Weisshaar 2015). None of these criteria lists, however, is based on the actual reading experiences and wishes of the students. This research project aims to include a student’s perspective in the process of choosing literature. Students will record their reactions and attitudes towards various selected short stories in a questionnaire based research design. These reactions will then be used to revise and expand the existing criteria lists on an empirical foundation.

Completed PhD projects

Bechler, Sabrina. Bilinguale Module in der Grundschule: Integriertes Inhalts- und Sprachlernen im Fächerverbund Mensch, Natur und Kultur. Inquiries in Language Learning. Forschungen zu Psycholinguistik und Fremdsprachendidaktik vol. 9, Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2014.

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). Studien zur Fremdsprachendidaktik und Spracherwerbsforschung vol. 10, WVT, 2018.

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. Studien zur Fremdsprachendidaktik und Spracherwerbsforschung vol. 5, WVT, 2015.




Verriere, Katharina. Bilinguale Module im Mathematikunterricht und ihr Einfluss auf die Lernbereitschaft der Schüler/innen für das Sachfach. Studien zur Fremdsprachendidaktik und Spracherwerbsforschung vol. 2, WVT, 2014.



Weis, Katharina. Sprachlernbiographie und Erfahrungswissen mehrsprachiger Fremdsprachenlehrkräfte: Einflussfaktoren für die Unterrichtspraxis und Konsequenzen für die Lehrerausbildung. 2016. University of Frankfurt, PhD dissertation.



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