An investigation into the use of culturally responsive teaching strategies: Teaching English to Muong ethnic minority students at a tertiary institution in Vietnam
Maximising student learning is a critical concern at every higher educational institution, particularly those with students from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and linguistic backgrounds. Teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) in the mountainous areas in Vietnam face challenges in improving students’ learning, because of the distinct ethnic groups with unique religious, linguistic, and cultural characteristics and identities who attend their classes. This research explored how to improve the English language learning (ELL) for Muong ethnic minority students in a tertiary institution in Vietnam. Applying a well-known framework of culturally responsive teaching (CRT), this mixed-method study explored Muong students’ culture and learning preferences and used these as a conduit for learning and teaching processes in ELL classrooms where Muong students constitute the majority. The study consists of two phases. Phase One explored the Muong students’ culture and their learning preferences in order to design the English language teaching (ELT) strategies culturally responsive to Muong students. It employed the data from the researcher’s autoethnographic writing, three focus group interviews with Muong villagers, four interviews with Muong college teachers, and questionnaires from 46 current college students. Phase One findings showed some Muong cultural features that were helpful for creating a safe learning environment for Muong students including hospitability and friendliness, working together, equal relationships in the family, and maintaining harmony. With regard to the learning preferences, it was evidenced that Muong learners prefer learning activities that relate to their daily life and culture, friendly relationships, learning by observing others and practice, and extra-curricular learning materials. They have emotional expectations such as to be encouraged, to be understood and cared for, to be respected and treated fairly, and to be supported. Phase Two measured the impacts the teaching strategies had on Muong students. An eight week quasi-experiment intervention was conducted. Two intact classes participated in the study, one experimental class and the other one a control. Data from video-recording, audio-recording, pre- and post-test scores, pre- and post-questionnaires, and teacher interviews were gathered. The findings showed a positive change in participation in oral learning activities, in attitude toward and confidence in ELL, and in post-test scores of Muong students. Non-Muong students were not found to be disadvantaged by the intervention. The study findings imply that CRT of Muong college students is very important to increase their academic achievement in ELL. It shows that methods culturally responsive to Muong students included a safe learning environment and learning activities integrated with their learning preferences. It lends support to the theory of CRT (Gay, 2010; Ginsberg and Wlodkowski, 2009) in that it shows knowledge of how to make the learning more effective for students from a particular group.