Ed.D. in Educational Administration, 2007
School of Education
May 1, 2010
Academic Research Agenda Includes Inquiries into Better Understanding Adolescents’ Academic Language Proficiency
Dianna Townsend attributes her passion for studying adolescent literacy to her parents’ love of reading and terrific English teachers, but her current research agenda would have surprised her if she had a crystal ball a decade ago. Given her love for the outdoors, she envisioned a life working in outdoor education programs rather than in academia as a professor of literacy studies. However, her path through various teaching jobs and graduate work inspired her to direct her energy toward supporting adolescents in public schools, a path that would allow her to make a difference with a large population of teenagers and their teachers.
After earning a B.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dianna followed her passion for outdoor sports, traveling around the eastern United States, Ireland, and the UK to compete in whitewater kayaking competitions and work as an outdoor educator. After two years of travel, teaching, and competition, she returned to the academic world to pursue a M.Ed. from Boston University. Here, she merged her passion for the outdoors with her passion for teaching by designing a master’s program that allowed for an exploration of alternative and outdoor education programs. However, her graduate coursework opened her eyes to the many challenges facing secondary students and their teachers, such as large class sizes, large percentages of struggling readers, and the difficulty of engaging teenagers in academic learning.
As a result of her experiences at BU, Dianna’s goals shifted from working with teenagers in the wilderness to working with teenagers in English/Language Arts classrooms. She knew she could reach many more students in classrooms and direct her energies to have an impact on many adolescents. She taught in both private and public high schools and in both conventional and special education environments. Her teaching experiences left her with several insights on adolescents and literacy, and Dianna began focusing on the importance of engagement and academic literacy skills. Without engagement, teenagers would not persevere through challenging learning experiences. Without academic literacy skills, teenagers would not be able to access the texts they were expected to (or wanted to) read.
Following these teaching experiences and the insights gained from them, Dianna was accepted into the UCI/UCLA joint-doctoral program in Educational Leadership. Working with advisor Penny Collins and mentor Michael Martinez, Dianna built a background in educational psychology and literacy. She also learned a great deal about the challenges faced by English learners (ELs) with respect to the academic language demands of secondary school. Her dissertation study was an experiment, in an after-school setting, to test the effectiveness of strategies for helping middle school ELs develop academic word knowledge.
Dianna is now as Assistant Professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. She teaches classes in content-area literacy, classes designed to help secondary teaching candidates understand and teach the literacy demands of their content areas. Her current research agenda involves inquiries into better understanding adolescents’ academic language proficiency and effective professional development approaches to support in-service teachers with strategies for academic language instruction. Her work in these areas has been published in Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and Teacher Education Quarterly.
Dianna considers her job to be a dream job; everyday, her work is geared toward supporting adolescents and their teachers. And, she did not have to quiet her passion for the outdoors. Because UNR is located at the gateway to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Dianna spends all of her free time with her husband and their two dogs kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking.