Sunday / May 19

Six Steps to Reading with Affirmation and Awareness

We teach children a host of strategies to implement as they read. Students learn phonics rules to read words on the page. They learn about characters and people and name their traits, identify main ideas, and analyze themes. These strategies and more help students to acquire skills that strengthen their reading. While this work along with building background knowledge is important, what can be missing is the teaching that helps students deeply understand their purpose for reading. Antiracist teaching positions students to recognize reading as a tool for liberation.

What is Antiracist Teaching?

To be antiracist, is to commit to a lived, liberated practice of continuous work toward the goal of equity, justice, and freedom. To be antiracist is to commit to love. This commitment moves us from the arbitrary use of this word, often limited to a feeling. Instead, we begin to perceive love as an action. Strengthening our understanding of love as an action, bell hooks (2001) offers, “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – —care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication” ( p. 5). Antiracist teaching fosters identity-inspiring experiences where students can show up fully as themselves and recognize the full humanity of all people.  In an antiracist reading classroom, reading helps students to dream, experience joy, engage in collective struggle and liberate their minds. Antiracist teaching, which affirms and raises awareness, helps students to love.


Echoed across research is the importance of students feeling affirmed as learners. This is particularly necessary for Black and Brown children who, due to the longevity of exclusion and racism in education, continue to experience obstacles seeing powerful reflections of themselves reflected in books and curriculum (Bishop, 1990); Ladson-Billings, 1995). Book bans, Book censorship and laws restricting what is taught in schools exacerbates this issue. In a world that actively works to perpetrate the idea that there is something inherently wrong with Blackness, it is urgent that educators work to  intentionally disrupt this “spirit-murdering” narrative (Love, 2019) and actively teach students to radically and unabashedly love themselves. Affirming students’ racial and cultural identities is the pathway to self-love. The connection between identity and literacy development has been spotlighted by scholars. Muhammad (2020) asserts, “Before getting to literacy skill development such as decoding, fluency, comprehension, writing, or any other content-learning standards, students must authentically see themselves in the learning. When children have access to books that are affirming, they feel seen, valued, important, cherished, and loved.


Raising students’ awareness requires deliberate, intentional work. It involves us learning the histories of our students, families and the communities we serve and understanding that this is not a finite process, but an ongoing one. As we provide students access to books that help them become more aware about issues that impact their lives and their communities, it is critical to seek out the stories, activists, and achievements of the community that spotlight their perspectives and experiences. Students read to learn the richness of their past and present, so they can forge ahead, carrying this knowledge with them to inform their futures.

Antiracist teaching is essential in reading praxis that is liberatory and there are several strategies we can teach that support students as they read for affirmation and awareness.

Read “around” the text. Invite students to consider:

  • Who are the creators?
  • What is their background?
  • How do their identities influence this work?
  • What is their motivation for writing this text?

Audition the text. Invite students to:

  • Read a bit
  • Consider: “What do I love?” (Not much? Choose another text!)

Read and jot. Invite students to consider:

  • How does this text reflect and affirm my identities and lived experiences?
  • How does this text raise my awareness about topics and issues?
  • Which does it do more of?

Discuss with reading partner(s)/club. Invite students to consider:

  • How does the discussion help us to understand more together?

Reflect. Invite students to consider:

  • How does this text make a difference to my heart? In my life?
  • What does this text reveal about society/the world?
  • How am I being challenged and changed?
  • What about my own identities or the identities of others do I need to know more about?

Repeat! Invite students to continue to apply these steps whenever they read.

Our teaching can be informed by consideration of questions such as:

  • What am I doing with the books I center in reading instruction?
  • What am I inviting students to do as readers?

Ongoing reflection is necessary as we work to realize a vision of an antiracist reading classroom rooted in love and liberation.

Written by

Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul is the founder of Red Clay Educators, co-director of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy, co-director of the Teach Black History All Year Institute, and executive producer and host of The Black Creators Series. She is an educator with more than 20-years of classroom experience who has written several books that support reading and writing instruction and has adapted the #1NYT Best Seller, Stamped (For Kids). Sonja leads professional development for schools and organizations in equity and antiracism. She invites you to visit her online at

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