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David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English

2016 Award Recipients

Michael W. SmithJeffrey W. WilhelmJeffrey D. Wilhelm, Boise State University, Idaho

Michael W. Smith, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

for Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them (Scholastic, 2014)


The award selection committee notes:  Reading UnboundReading Unbound translates research and theory into a joyous celebration of what Deborah Brandt might call “everyday reading.” At a time when “grit,” “text complexity,” and “Lexile levels” seem to be dominating the discussion, Reading Unbound gives voice to avid readers who describe the various pleasures they experience as they read. The book also explodes the elitist notion that complex reading experiences can come only from the reading of canonical literature. The popular genres—vampire novels, horror stories, romances—all elicit amazingly insightful responses from the readers the authors interview. Through the voices of teens themselves, we are immersed in the texts they freely select and the myriad ways they engage deep questions and life issues. Yet, all too often, these books are not respected or approved of by teachers and other adults. So how might we teachers reimagine the varied pleasures of reading, robust learning, and joyful teaching with adolescents as they seek to figure out who they are and who they will become? Reading Unbound challenges all of us to learn to “inquire” with youth into books that most deeply interest them. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and Sharon Fransen’s book opens the door to a more appealing (and successful), student-driven, and inclusive approach to the teaching of literature.

2016 Russell Award Committee
Rosa Jimenez, University of San Francisco, CA, Chair
Tom Newkirk, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Cheryl Glenn, Penn State University, University Park


Nomination Deadline:  March 1

Purpose:  This award honors an outstanding work of scholarship or research in language, literature, rhetoric, or pedagogy and learning.

Eligibility:  Any work or works of scholarship or research in language, literature, rhetoric, or pedagogy and learning published during the previous five-year period prior to January 1 of the year of the award. If an individual or company nominates more than three books, only the first three of its nominations to be received will be considered.

Award Criteria:  Any published research (a work or works by the same author or authors) in language, literature, rhetoric, teaching procedures, or cognitive processes that may sharpen the teaching or the content of English at any instructional level. Publication must be available in English. Commercially published instructional materials are not eligible for consideration. Reports of doctoral studies, while not precluded from consideration for the Russell Award, are typically considered as part of NCTE’s separate "Promising Researcher" program.

Award Specifics:  The award recipient is announced in November each year and honored at the NCTE Annual Convention with a plaque and honorarium. 

The award was established in 1963 as the Distinguished Research Award and renamed in 1966 to honor the Council’s late president David H. Russell.

Deadline:  Nomination materials must be postmarked no later than March 1 and sent to or by postal mail to NCTE David H. Russell Award, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL  61801-1096.

Nominations should include:

  • A nomination letter with your name, phone, email, author, title, publisher, date of publication, and one paragraph indicating your reasons for nominating the work.
  • Four copies of the publication for distribution to the Selection Committee, or if that is not possible, provide full bibliographic information so that the Selection Committee will encounter no difficulty in locating the publication nominated.

NOTE:  Publications sent without supporting documents will not be considered.

Judging:  The Selection Committee determines the winner based upon the nominations meeting the criteria each year. The Selection Committee consists of three members, who serve three-year staggered terms. The chair of the committee shall be the member who has served longest. Each year, before the NCTE Annual Convention, the incumbent NCTE president shall appoint one member of the committee to replace the retiring member.

Past Winners:  Full List of Past Winners

2016:  Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Boise State University, Idaho and Michael W. Smith, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want and Why We Should Let Them (Scholastic, 2014)

2015:  Anne Haas Dyson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Rewriting the Basics: Literacy Learning in Children’s Cultures (Teachers College Press, 2013)

2014:  David E. Kirkland, Michigan State University, East Lansing, A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013)

2013:  Peter Smagorinsky, University of Georgia, Athens, Vygotsky and Literacy Research: A Methodological Framework (Boston, 2011)

2012:  Judith A. Langer, University of Albany, Albany, New York, Envisioning Knowledge: Building Literacy in the Academic Literacies (Teachers College Press, 2011)

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