Just 36 percent of eighth-grade students in America can read at or above the proficient level. That is a slight improvement over previous years. It’s still worrying that many students aren’t developing the literacy they’ll need in their adult years.

There are many reasons people may struggle with reading. We’ll examine why young people today aren’t finding success in reading and how a collective impact model could change that.

The Problem of Literacy

With the introduction of public education in the 1800s and 1900s, literacy improved. Today, though, many people are concerned that literacy has stalled out.

Many American adults are illiterate. Young people in school don’t seem to be fairing much better. From 1992, literacy has improved a scant seven percent.

Three-quarters of American eighth graders can read at the basic level. Less than half of them are proficient.

Who Reads Books Anymore?

There are a variety of reasons young people may not read. Youth from low-income households may not have access to books at home. Friends and family may not make reading a priority.

Many students also struggle with reading. It’s not a fun activity for them, so they choose to take part in other activities.

There’s no shortage of other activities to choose from. Video games, social media, and TV and movies are other options. Many young people find these activities more enjoyable.

There’s also a marked difference between boys and girls when it comes to reading and literacy. After a certain age, boys are less likely to pick up a book and engage in pleasure reading.

These factors combine, with the result that literacy isn’t improving for children and youth. The question is, what can be done about increasing literacy?

The Collective Impact Model

The problem of improving literacy is multi-pronged. It needs a multi-pronged solution as well. The collective impact model is one approach.

What is a collective impact model? This approach draws in people from across different sectors to support a common goal. It’s a structured form of collaboration.

In the case of literacy, collective impact can involve many different groups:

  • Children and youth
  • Parents, friends, and family
  • Teachers, educators, and school officials
  • Community leaders, such as librarians
  • Local politicians
  • Advocacy groups and other supporters

By coming together, these diverse groups can address all the factors affecting literacy.

Why Collective Impact Works

The collective impact model is effective because it addresses the problem holistically. By drawing in people from a wide range of groups, more resources can be devoted to solving the issue.

In the case of literacy, it’s not enough for teachers or parents to try to address the issue alone. Teachers may not have budgets to supply books. Their classrooms may be overcrowded.

Parents may also find themselves strapped for cash. Parents themselves may also downplay the value of books. They might be too busy to read to their children, or they may have a low literacy level themselves.

Children who don’t have reading modeled for them are less likely to read for pleasure. If a child is struggling with reading, they need the appropriate support.

When giving support is up to teachers or parents alone, children continue to struggle. By connecting a wider community, every child can access the right resources.

This is the power of the collective impact model. It draws on more people and resources to create solutions that really work.

Getting Started with Collective Impact

Using the collective impact model requires buy-in from stakeholders across the spectrum. If only parents and educators are on board, they may not be able to find the support they need.

Often, it’s easy to find people who want to help improve literacy rates for American children and youth. If you’re not sure who to ask, think about some of the following resources:

  • Local libraries
  • Advocacy groups, including those dedicated to education and literacy
  • Local schools, officials, and educators
  • Community groups such as Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, Rotary Club, and others
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Authors, publishers, and booksellers

Form a team and forge partnerships. Draw on your own connections. You might be surprised to learn how far a school superintendent’s network goes.

Assigning Roles and Responsibilities

There are many different ways groups can contribute to the collective impact model. Local libraries or the YMCA or Rotary Club can donate meeting spaces. Parents, educators, and advocates can volunteer time to read or supervise activities.

You can even ask other students to mentor each other. Older students can help younger students develop reading skills.

Other people and groups will make financial contributions. These can be used to buy books or other supplies.

People can also donate books. Ask your community at large to donate to a book drive. Ask children to create wish lists of books they want to read so donors know what the funds are used for.

The important thing to remember is that you must be strategic about your activities. Even if you have a large network to draw on, volunteer hours and finances are limited. Being strategic helps you maximize your impact using the resources you have.

Setting Goals

Before you launch, be sure you’ve established clear goals for the program. What do you want to do? Some sample goals could include:

  • Engage families with toddlers and pre-school aged children to provide early literacy experiences
  • Work to achieve 100 percent literacy for school-aged children by grade three
  • Reduce adult illiteracy by a certain percentage within a certain timeframe

Clear goals for the program will inform your activities. Once you know what you want to achieve, you can look at how to achieve it.

Make It Fun

Perhaps the most important part of building a community of readers is making it fun. As noted, kids today have plenty of options when it comes to entertainment.

If they don’t think picking up a book is fun, they’ll choose something else.

The community focus of the collective impact model provides ways to make reading fun. Group discussions can help children understand what they’ve read. Creative activities can engage their imaginations.

Discussing books with their peers and parents also strengthens relationships. Set up reading challenges. You can even create a themed read-a-thon that gets kids excited about books.

Students should be able to access a personalized library with the books they want to read. Kids need a wide variety of materials, not just what people think they should be reading. Don’t forget reading materials come in many different forms, from comics to illustrated novels.

Make sure to use the digital resources at your disposal. eBooks are often less expensive than their print counterparts. Ask if a community partner, like a library, has a program to make eReaders and iPads accessible.

If not, ask if there’s a community partner that could help. Together, you can make an exchange program or technology loan program possible.

Technology can also create online spaces for the young readers in your community. Work with community partners to create digital meeting rooms. These spaces allow kids to connect and talk to each other about what they’re reading.

A Facebook group or a private discussion channel could help students connect. Software could help identify new titles for students based on what else they’ve read.

Be Ready to Learn Yourselves

Before you launch your collective impact collaboration, you’ll need to do some research. You should learn what you can from other communities. Many have successfully launched collective impact programs aimed at improving literacy.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Talking to others who have gone through the process can help you learn what works and how to avoid mistakes.

You must also be prepared to continue learning after the program launches. Take advantages of opportunities for teacher training and education. Ask educators and experts to share their knowledge with the community.

Children aren’t the only people who need support in a collective impact literacy program. Parents may need to learn the best ways to support their children’s literacy. Volunteers may need to learn planning skills to help organize activities.

Best practices should be clearly communicated to all stakeholders. This makes it easier for them to align their efforts. When everyone knows what’s expected of them, working together is easier.

Finally, be sure to establish methods of tracking and managing the program. You’ll need data to show you what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll also need to establish accountability, so everyone knows who is responsible.

Start Making a Difference Today

It’s never too early or too late to start working toward higher literacy rates. Using the collective impact model is one of the best steps any community can take.