In the past, asking the student sitting next to you for help
usually earned you a detention slip or a trip to the principals
office. Now, teachers encourage students to learn from
Richard Bonnem has taught at Cochiti Elementary and Middle
School in New Mexico for the last 10 years. Bonnem encourages
his students to work together, and the results have been good.
One of my top students helps my special needs student
with her assignments, says Bonnem. I just talked
to the student and told her how much I appreciated it. This
is a fifth grader. Its almost like a family. Its
not just the teacher giving the information. You can learn
from a lot of different people.
To encourage teamwork, Bonnem has changed the way his classroom
is set up. Desks are grouped together, making it easier for
students to work side by side. His class and others like it
are noisier than more traditional learning environments,
but there are good noises and bad noises. I want the
good noises, says Bonnem. I want my students focused
projects and working as a group. I want them to be on task
and problem solving. What you dont want to hear are
kids talking about their boyfriends and girlfriendsthose
are the bad noises. I dont want silence either. I dont
want them sitting there just by themselves.
I have learned to have fun with the kids. My big
thing is to gain their trust so they are able to take risks
and not be afraid of making a mistake. Now more than ever
hands shoot up to answer a question
having 24 teachers in the room. Teacher Richard
Theres another reason that schools like Cochiti Elementary
and Middle School are placing heavy emphasis on student collaboration
and projects that focus on more than one subject at a time.
If we can teach kids how to work together, brainstorm
problems togetherwe are preparing them for life,
says Cochiti Principal June Reed. This is what the workplace
needs. People dont work in isolation anymore. Successful
companies have teams now. Everybody has to work together.
If we can start teaching children those skills now, we have
done our job.
Cochiti Elementary and Middle School is making progress.
In 1998, the school received a distinguished school award
from the U.S. Department of Education. Reed acknowledges that
the school still has a ways to go to improve math and reading
scores. Under her leadership, the school will continue to
revise and update its school improvement plan to ensure that
everything teachers do in the classroom relates to increasing
This new approach to learning requires more of teachers,
and that means teachers need to brush up on their skills.