Thursday, April 02, 2009

Erin Vienneau on teaching gifted children

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.


Anonymous said...

I found the Davidson Academy online and I'm jealous.

We live in Georgia, and we've moved from a really good, large school district to a small rural one. My son will skip fifth grade and go to sixth next year, after some help from supportive school staff to work around the NCLB requirement that one pass the 5th grade test (as a registered 5th grader?) before moving to 6th.

I hope that will be enough challenge and provide some peers. I've thought of having him tested for the Davidson Young Scholars Project, but although he's quite bright I'm not sure he would hit the 1% mark, and he doesn't want to be singled out (pulled for additional testing) any more than he already is.

J. said...

Would you describe homework at the Academy?

Davidson Institute Staff said...

J. – thank you for asking! Homework at The Davidson Academy is an extension of classroom discoveries and interactions. It is not busy work, but meaningful assignments that engage students in applying information and skills for mastery. Students are responsible for prioritizing their homework assignments and managing their time. The Academy staff is available to guide students with their study skills and assist them during study hall periods, which are built into most students’ school days. Please read this Davidson Academy Academic Overview page for additional information.

Anonymous said...

We live in New Zealand and our primary school son has been tested at 99.8%. There is a one day school program here where they can leave their normal school and attend a gifted curriculum school for one day per week. I am seriously considering moving to Nevada to give him a better chance with his education. Is it possible for immigrants to enroll a child in your school? What additional criteria do we have to meet?

Davidson Institute Staff said...

In response to the previous poster, thank you for your interest in The Davidson Academy! The application deadline for the 2011-2012 school year has passed. However, qualification criteria for the 2012-2013 school year will be available in the near future on this page. In the meantime, please contact if you have any questions.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of opening more Davidson Academies?
How did this one get started?

Davidson Institute Staff said...

In response to "Anonyomous" - Opened in 2006, the Davidson Academy ( is a third kind of public school as noted in Nevada state legislation NRS 392A, which allowed for the creation for a “University School for Profoundly Gifted Pupils” at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Anonymous said...

In response to "Davidson Institute staff" - Are there plans to open more, around the country? Thanks!

Davidson Institute Staff said...

Currently, we do not have plans to open any additional locations as we are focusing our resources on the current school and researching the possibility of adding online options.