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Abstract

We designed a professional development (PD) teacher-mentor program that used problem-based learning (PBL) to accomplish two goals. First, teachers explored how PBL could be used effectively in their classrooms to change the way they think about teaching to include literacy development in content areas. Second, PBL was the basis for PD training to help them improve their own knowledge of PBL, become mentors to other teachers, and implement PBL in their schools across content areas.

Educators in the United States are challenged to teach linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) students with differing literacy levels. The demographics of U.S. classrooms require a rigorous attempt to engage LCD students through collaborative, active learning opportunities (McGroarty, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Research shows that literacy learning for all students improves in classroom settings that take a cooperative, student-centered approach (McGroarty, 1988, 1989; NCSS, 1991; Shumway, Saunders, Stewardson, & Reeve, 2001). PBL provides opportunities for students to engage in active learning and allows students with multiple learning styles to negotiate contextualized meaning through a variety of collaborative tasks. PBL has also been shown to be an effective method for teaching learners to be self-directed problemsolvers. However, in the absence of PD and ongoing support, teachers are often resistant to the implementation of PBL.

In our program, we used PBL to help teachers learn more about literacy and PBL while providing opportunities for PD and support. As a result, the teacher reflections, discussions, presentations, and self-evaluations demonstrated how, by using PBL in their classrooms while immersing themselves in evidence-based content, they observed enhanced student collaboration. Teachers felt that they were better able to foster a learning environment in their classrooms that would allow students to develop literacy skills in a content-rich context both because of the incorporation of PBL and because of the support they provided for each other. This idea can be easily adapted to foster teacher development and mentoring programs in other fields.

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