Today we welcome another teacher of gifted students to Gifted Exchange. Erin Vienneau teaches English and history at the Davidson Academy of Nevada, the nation's first free public day school for profoundly gifted children. Located in Reno, the school serves children who would conventionally be in the middle and high school years, and focuses on individualized instruction.
GE: Please describe a typical day for us.
Vienneau: Describing a typical day at the Academy is almost impossible because it varies so much from student to student, but I'll try. The school day starts at 8:00 and ends at 3:15, although we have several students with late starts and/or early dismissals. Our classes are an hour long, with five minute passing periods, and a 45 minute lunch -- there are six periods in a day. Most students take all four core subjects -- English, math, history, and science -- and then add electives such as foreign languages, computer classes, etc. Much of the day on Friday is devoted to other electives like creative writing, jazz band, yearbook, student council, etc. Students who are signed up for University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) courses come and go throughout the day. The majority of the students also have at least a little study hall time, during which they can work on homework or ask for assistance from someone in the writing center or math center. During lunch, there are many clubs (math, science, debate, chess, GECKO -- an environmental group -- and Community Crusaders -- a volunteer group).
GE: What are some differences between the Davidson Academy and other schools you are familiar with?
Vienneau: Two of the biggest differences between the Academy and other schools are: 1) Our classes are small and student driven. The pace, depth, and types of assignments are constantly adjusted to meet the rapidly changing needs and interests of the students. For example, in my classes, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to cover, how I want to cover it, and about how long I think it should take, but I am constantly checking in with the students, making adjustments, and altering my plans based on their feedback. 2) To a higher degree here than I have seen elsewhere, these students are really supportive of each other. There is a lot of collaboration in class and in study halls. I thought this school might be highly competitive, and while there is some good natured competition which helps everyone push themselves a little, overall, the students are very kind and cooperative with each other.
GE: What have you learned from teaching at the Academy?
Vienneau: Lessons I've learned at the Academy: 1) Be flexible. Be willing to change your mind or your strategy at a moment's notice based on how well any given task is working. 2) Have a good sense of humor. Many smart teenagers, and preteens, like to joke around, and being willing to joke back goes a long way toward building good relationships. When students like their teachers, they are usually more driven to do their best work. 3) Don't feel like you have to know everything. Be open to learning from your students. I greatly value the enthusiasm and knowledge of my students because then our whole class is working together to learn, think, deliberate, and discover.