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PhD Project Descriptions

Research Axis 1: Language Practices

Project 1.1: Learners as cultural mediators: Exploring the role and value of children’s multilingual practices for learning

  • Doctoral Candidate: Anastasia Badder
  • Supervisor: Gabriele Budach

This project aims to examine the multilingual practices of Jewish youth in Luxembourg across a range of settings, both public and private, in and out of institutional contexts. The project will draw on existing research around linguistic repertoire, literacy, and socialization practices, in conjunction with theories around the intersections of language, identity, and     school success. This research will contribute to a new perspective on multilingualism and multilingual practices in Luxembourg and the ways in which teachers can draw on these to improve learning conditions by exploring the intersection of locals and migrants, various social and educational backgrounds, and the range of languages that comprise the Jewish community.

Project 1.2: From school to work: Multilingual practices of youth in vocational education and training (VET)

  • Doctoral Candidate: Constanze Tress
  • Supervisor: Ingrid de Saint-Georges

This PhD project attempts to understand the role of youth's linguistic practices in situated processes of teaching and learning in Luxembourg's vocational sector. In Luxembourg, stakeholders in vocational education and training (VET) face enormous challenges in light of heterogeneous classes and workplace environments. The VET setting becomes a "contact zone" (Pratt 1991), all the more so as learners in the vocational field overwhelmingly come from a migrant background.
The project will expand on current research in VET and insights from diverse fields (Critical/Global Sociolinguistics, Multilingual Education) in a qualitative-explorative approach. Data are gathered via (video-)ethnography, (group) interviews and documents and analysed via interactional analysis, social semiotics and critical/multimodal discourse analysis.  
The project is driven by research questions such as:

  • How is language used in concert with other semiotic resources to fashion students’ professional skills, knowledge and habitus/identity in vocational settings (vocational school, workplace)?
  • Is (learning to) work (in the lower vocational programs) facilitated/inhibited because of one’s linguistic repertoire? When is language a problem/an opportunity? What are the consequences of (not) having the expected repertoire in a given context?
  • How and when are the linguistic resources of youth de-/valued? Do (local, inter/national) language-related ideologies and attitudes come into play? Which?
  • Are spaces constructed (by whom?) wherein such ideologies and attitudes are reproduced/resisted/met with resilience? Which strategies do teachers, trainers and learners – from an interactional point of view – use to make sense of their educational environment and to cope with the challenges it implies?

The aim is to map out potentials for supportive and ameliorative actions docking onto teachers’/trainers’ needs and available resources. Furthermore, the project will contribute to the emerging research field "(Multilingual) Vocational Pedagogy", and especially shed light on the under-researched lower vocational tracks.

Project 1.3: Translanguaging for learning: A study of multilingual practices in the primary school

  • Doctoral Candidate: Sarah Degano
  • Supervisor: Claudine Kirsch

The project will examine the language practices of children and their teachers in Years 4 and 5 in multilingual primary schools in Luxembourg. While these language practices involve the participants’ first languages, they will also be multilingual. I will analyse the ways in which children make use of their entire repertoire (i.e. verbal and non-verbal resources) in order to communicate, make meaning and learn at school. This flexible and dynamic use of ones’ entire repertoire is called translanguaging. The aim of the project is to explore the potential impact of multilingual language use on learning and teaching.

Project 1.4: Internationalisation and multilingualism in doctoral education: A focus on the second language academic writing process

  • Doctoral Candidate: Stephanie Hofmann
  • Supervisor: Adelheid Hu

In the course of internationalisation of higher education, knowledge has become a sought-after and highly contested commodity. The urge to further facilitate and accelerate knowledge transfer on a global scale has led to an increased use of the academic lingua franca English. Lately, this trend is also visible in the doctoral education of the social sciences and humanities at the multilingual University of Luxembourg, where the majority of doctoral theses are published in English. The linguistic choices made by plurilingual PhD students for writing their doctoral thesis are hence highly political, because they involve compromises that rest many times on power relations. Despite the fact that a myriad of other languages apart from English come into contact at the University of Luxembourg, this language power struggle and the consequences of researching multilingually are not yet sufficiently problematised both in and beyond doctoral education. The current situation leads inevitably to tensions and ambiguities at different levels: The competitive constraints imposed upon the university are strongly connected to the increase of English for international publications, whereas the national multilingualism of Luxembourg (French, German and Luxembourgish) needs to be maintained and fostered also at university level. Furthermore, “monolingual norms” and academic standards are constantly reinforced to serve quality assurance in research, while however hybrid or mixed forms of academic discourses – resulting from the diversity of linguistic, cultural and educational backgrounds – seem to have become commonplace in higher education. Eventually, at the individual level, academic achievement can be somewhat restricted due to insufficient competencies in (a) particular language(s) and academic culture(s). In particular, the individual perspective of the doctoral students – has not yet been examined in detail. Thus, the overall aim of this explorative study is to show how academic writing in the context described above is practiced and reflected by plurilingual PhD students of the University of Luxembourg. Three substantial contributions will be made to the research field: First, this study will give valuable insights into how plurilingual PhD students explain their linguistic choices in writing academically. Second, the study will investigate how they make sense of discipline-related norms in their academic writing process and how they implement these norms. And third, it will reveal to what extent they draw on their plurilingual repertoire as a resource for the research and writing process.

Project 1.5: Plurilingual education and children’s language practices. A comparative ethnographic case study in Luxembourgish daycare centers

  • Doctoral Candidate: Kevin Simoes Lourêiro
  • Supervisor: Sascha Neumann

In recent years, issues of linguistic diversity and multilingual education have increasingly gained importance in Luxembourgish early childhood education policy referring to structures addressing children before school age (0 to 4 years old). With the introduction of the programme of the so-called éducation plurilingue in 2017, which forms an integral part of the national curriculum for non-formal education before school age (MENJE & SNJ, 2018), early childhood education structures are expected to familiarize children with Luxembourgish and French while, at the same time, their home languages also should be supported and valorized. This implies great challenges for the structures and professionals in the sector of early childhood education. On the one hand, it must be assumed that, in previous years, most of the structures were relying intuitively on a monolingual institutional language policy (either Luxembourgish or French) in order to come up with the linguistically diverse environment represented in the everyday life of the different centers (cf. Neumann 2015; Seele 2015). On the other hand, the sector is characterized by an extensive heterogeneity. This is, for example, the case in terms of organizational (private vs. public) and former legal frameworks (Maisons relais pour enfants, crèches, foyers de jour), the linguistic diversity of staff and their professional qualifications (see Honig & Bock, 2017) and not least in reference to the different populations of children and their family languages in the various settings. Against the background of the diverse starting conditions of the structures as well as in respect to the recency of the éducation plurilingue, at the moment there is obviously little evidence about how the programme really affects the everyday language practices in the settings. This especially applies to a comparative and contrasting analysis, which considers the different conditions of single institutions. Furthermore, there is also little known about how the institutions in fact capitalize on the linguistic repertoires and practices of children – both in guided activities as well as with regard to peer interactions among children themselves. Taking these two desiderata as a point of departure, a possible PhD project could on the one hand investigate how the programme of the éducation plurilingue is realized in practice, this not only on the level of local curricula but also on the level of everyday pedagogical practices. On the other hand, the project could especially focus on how different institutional strategies of realizing the programme both shape and are shaped by linguistic practices the children apply in institutional everyday life among themselves as well as in the conversation with adults. This could be done by an ethnographic case study of different settings selected carefully on the basis of a theoretical sampling including the relevant features which constitute the diversity of the ECE landscape in Luxembourg. By especially focusing on the practices and peer-interactions of children, the project would draw the attention to their agency in contributing to the enrichment of the linguistic environment of early childhood education settings. Hence, it would offer a complementary perspective in comparison to the different measures accompanying the programme of the éducation plurilingue, which, at the moment, are much more concentrated on the possible activities of adult caregivers and parents. In doing so, the project can link perspectives from sociolinguistics and educational research with the paradigmatic viewpoint of the so-called new social childhood studies (Corsrao, Qvortrup & Honig, 2008).

Research Axis 2: Language Learning and Achievement

Project 2.1: The development of orthographic practices of multilingual pupils throughout schooling

  • Doctoral Candidate: Linda Brucher
  • Supervisor: Constanze Weth

The project pursues two main research objectives: first, investigate how explicit teaching of grammatical reasoning enhances the spelling skills of Grade 3 pupils in relation to orthographic markers that are not audible but are highly reliable: the capitalisation of nouns in German. Second, to analyse if the pupils profit better from the training if they are supported by a visual three-dimensional tool that differentiates different word classes and the phrase structure of a sentence (“a Lego writing system”). The research focusses the following questions:

  • What effect does training in grammatical reasoning has on the spelling skills of multilingual pupils in German compared to a word based method?
  • What effect does training in grammatical reasoning with a visual support has on the spelling skills of multilingual pupils in German compared to training in grammatical reasoning without a visual support?

A mix of quantitative and qualitative methods will be used to achieve the project’s objectives: (a) quantitative data will be collected in dictation tests (gap tests with words, sentences), a test on receptive grammar and a general competence test. A questionnaire on pupils’ language and literacy background will be sent to the parents. (b) Qualitative data will be collected by video-recording the training sessions with the children.
The entire sample of the study will contain about 90 children. They are distributed in 3 experimental groups. Group 1 will get training in grammatical reasoning with visual support of word classes and phrase structures. Group 2 will get training in grammatical reasoning without visual support. Group 3 will get training in lexicon, the traditional approach in teaching capitalisation of German nouns.

Project 2.2:  The use of value-added (VA) scores for the identification of highly effective pedagogical practices for diverse student populations

  • Doctoral Candidate: Jessica Levy
  • Supervisor: Antoine Fischbach

The PhD project aims to repurpose VA scores as a tool for identifying and disseminating innovative pedagogical and/or didactical approaches of particularly successful educational practitioners (as opposed to VA scores as a tool for teacher/school accountability). Concretely, the project will start by reviewing and integrating the inconclusive current body of knowledge on VA scores.
In a second step, we will apply and compare the different VA modelling approaches and techniques on representative longitudinal large-scale data emerging from the Luxembourg school monitoring programme in order to identify best practices in the realm of VA modelling. To conclude, we will hopefully deliver proof of concept for the utility of VA scores in the reliable empirical identification of schools/classes that make highly heterogeneous and multilingual groups of learners in general, and minority students in particular, perform systematically above statistical expectations.

Project 2.3: Individual Differences in Motivation of Adult EFL Students in Luxembourg

  • Doctoral Candidate: E'Louise Botes
  • Supervisor: Samuel Greiff

The rise of English as the lingua franca has increased the demand for language schools teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) to adults across the world. Within the multicultural and multilinguistic country of Luxembourg there are several language schools teaching English across the different CEFL levels to adults across the country. The motivation of language learners and the variables affecting learning and motivation has been established in the work of J. M. Dewaele, P. D. MacIntyre, T. Yashima and R. Clement among others.
The current PhD project hopes to build and expand on this work by examining motivational variables within the multilinguistic and multicultural setting of Luxembourg. The motivational constructs to be examined include language learning anxiety, language learning enjoyment, willingness to communicate, international posture and self-perceived communication competence in adult EFL students. In addition the perception of student competence by teachers will also be examined. In particular, relationships between variables will be examined through the lens of multilinguism and positive psychology.
Data will be gathered from participating language schools in Luxembourg with the consent of the language school, teacher and student. Variables will be measured quantitatively through online questionnaires that will contain previously tested and validated subscales. Data will be pseudonymous and will be protected in line with the guidelines of the University of Luxembourg. The data will be analysed via structural equation modelling and polynomial regression with surface response analysis.


Research Axis 3: Language and STEM Learning

Project 3.1: The Influence of Language Profiles on Early Numerical and (Pre-)Mathematical Learning

  • Doctoral Candidate: Remy Lachelin
  • Supervisor: Christine Schiltz

Numeracy and literacy are essential components of education and play a pivotal role in the cognitive development of children. The rich linguistic diversity in Luxembourg raises the concern that some children may be at disadvantage in their academic achievements, for the teaching language may differ from the spoken language at home. The current project aims to determine whether multilingualism influences the development of numerical abilities (e.g. magnitude and parity judgment) and literacy (e.g. early letter processing and word recognition). Tracking the development of these central abilities from childhood to adulthood is indispensable to elucidate its effect longitudinally. Both adults and children will be tested behaviorally (reading and numerical abilities) as well as with EEG to record neural responses. Our EEG methodological approach the “Fast Periodic Visual Stimulation” (FPVS), offers an innovative tool to assess general numerical abilities and literacy in participants in a rapid, implicit, and language-free design and suitable for participants of any age. Results will show links between behavioral and neural responses for numeracy and literacy, how neural responses change with learning and acquisition and, how the multilingual context affects behavioral and neural markers of numeracy and literacy.
This research will be supervised by Christine Schiltz who is an expert in cognitive neuroscience of development (see: Hoffmann et al., 2013; Mejias & Schiltz, 2013; Schuller et al., 2015) and recently started to investigate how language impacts numerical learning in different mono- and multi-lingual populations (Hornung et al., 2014; Van Rinsveld et al. (2017).
This project will also benefit from the expertise of Dr Aliette Lochy, an expert in developmental cognitive neuroscience from the Catholic University of Louvain.

Project 3.2: The influence of the instruction language on mathematics in a multilingual educational setting

  • Doctoral Candidate: Sophie Frédérique Martini
  • Supervisor: Sonja Ugen

Research has shown that students who are part of a multilingual school system, in which the language of instruction of mathematics switches at a certain point in the curriculum, are able to correctly solve very basic mathematical tasks presented to them in two languages. However, the tasks are solved differently based on the characteristics of the target language. For more language laden numerical tasks, students with increased exposure to the second language of instruction and even proficient multilingual adults continue to solve the tasks more accurately and faster in the first language of instruction.
The PhD project will analyse the (dis)advantages of the continual use of the same language of instruction compared to the switching of the language on secondary mathematics performance in a multilingual setting.