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The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom, by Felicia Rose Chavez

At heart, the Anti-Racist writing workshop imports a pedagogy of deep listening—Felicia Rose Chavez

I highly recommend this book for all educators who teach reading and writing. While Chavez works mostly with adult students, and much of her focus in the book is about making thoughtful, purposeful changes in a college-level writing workshop, her basic tenets are applicable for all levels of instruction. The tenets include:

  • Experiences of all students are crucial to our collective narrative.
  • A variety of mentor texts from a wide range of authors are needed.
  • Conversations with authors make meaning relevant and real.
  • Workshop leader is an artistic ally.

While reading, I continually thought about my third graders and their experiences with writing, and how I could evolve my writing workshop into an Anti-Racist writing workshop. Here are a few takeaways for all elementary teachers:

Listen more. Chavez stresses the importance of celebrating student’s own words and allowing them to write and speak in “their unique and powerful voices.” She writes that workshop is “about sharing our stories. We must be heard.” Listening extends to our students as well, and this is something that teachers can begin to cultivate on day one.

Begin the year by developing writing habits. Throughout the book, Chavez encourages her students to cultivate a writer’s mindset. She believes that daily freewriting by hand, pen to paper, is the best way to do this. “The physical forward momentum of the pen compels us to write now, edit later.” For our young students, daily freewriting could begin with small increments (maybe one minute to start!) and could include:

  • To-do lists
  • Guided prompts (This weekend I…, I wish I could…, I think that…)
  • Confessionals
  • Sketches
  • Self-reflections

Chavez begins her first day of workshop with a free write in which students answer the question, why are you good at writing? Students then pick one thing they wrote and one-by-one, they stand and share, my name is …, and I’m good at writing because…

Daily freewriting sessions help students gain stamina and confidence as a writer. Consider having a designated notebook just for freewriting so that students can see their growth. Chavez writes, “To be a writer is to choose to write, to show up every day and do the work.” Remember to give students the opportunity to share with others through partnerships, small groups, or whole group if time allows. Each student’s voice is important. They all deserve time to share.

Find a variety of mentor texts. It’s so important for children, and especially children of color, to see themselves and hear a voice like themselves in a story or piece of writing. Dig deeper and find picture books with a range of authors. Read them aloud and discuss the author’s voice, the rhythm, the use of imagery, the sentence variation. If you can, reach out to authors to visit your classroom virtually. So many children’s writers are happy to do short, virtual visits.

Ditch the Hatchet. I loved this phrase, and I am guilty of using my hatchet too often. Chavez suggests teachers ask themselves, “Am I truly trying to help my students find their voices or am I trying to create clones of me?” Consider putting the hatchet or red pen down and simply listening.

Rethink writing conferences. Chavez insists that conferences should be a collaboration. Before meeting with a child, ask them, “what does your draft need right now?” Give them time to think about this. In the conference, have your students read their writing aloud, allowing them to edit as they go. You help with what they asked for.

Becoming an Anti-Racist workshop leader is going to require work. It’s going to require questioning and challenging the curriculums we are given to teach. It’s going to require restructuring our physical classroom and giving more time for writing. But if we truly want to celebrate the value of each individual voice, then it’s necessary work.

You try as hard as you can to listen.

You try as hard as you can to receive.

You try as hard as you can to empower.

                        —Felicia Rose Chavez

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