You are here


A Holy Cross Writing Rubric


This rubric has been developed by the College Committee on Writing Pedagogy and Assessment. We worked from Holy Cross faculty's writing assignments, evaluation guidelines, and feedback at writing pedagogy workshops and during a pilot program in spring 2013 to test it on writing samples from Montserrat sections. We are now soliciting more feedback from departments, as we refine the rubric further to prepare for a second assessment project in spring 2014. We welcome faculty's adapting the rubric for use in their own classes. As more faculty work with it, we hope that this rubric will foster some common vocabulary for evaluating student writing across the curriculum. Please forward any suggestions to any member of the Committee: Pat Bizzell, English, Chair; Denise Bell, Institutional Assessment; K.J. Rawson, English; Jack Schneider, Education.

Rubric Lesson Plan
Writing Rubric
Using Rubric/Bizzell
Using Rubric/Schneider


Thoughts about Teaching Writing from a Seasoned Instructor:

1. Teaching writing skills should not be restricted to the English Department. Students learn how to write through repeated practice and feedback across the curriculum.

2. The clearer the assignment, the higher the quality of student papers.

3. Feedback on writing is important, but beware of overkill. No matter what the depth of writing problems, don't try to point out everything that is wrong with a paper. Be selective. Focus on two or three issues at most.

4. Convey to students that writing is one of the most important skills that they will develop in college.

5. Convey to students that the substance of a paper and the quality of ideas presented cannot be judged apart from the quality of the writing. Good ideas must be articulated clearly. Convey that ideas will be just as "good" when they are clearly stated in writing.


Helpful books for faculty members who want to improve the teaching of writing in their courses:


1. Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. New York: Norton, 2d ed. 2010.

This book is all about how to write academic arguments across the disciplines, and as the title suggests, focuses on the common intellectual task of inserting oneself into an ongoing scholarly conversation. Compact and relatively inexpensive, it could easily be added onto the reading list for almost any course.


2. Raimes, Ann with Maria Jerskey. Keys for Writers. Boston: Wadsworth, 6th ed. 2011.

This is a standard, comprehensive grammar and punctuation reference book, which also includes the protocols for MLA, APA, CSE and Chicago documentation styles. While it is not much different from others of its type, it does feature an unusually comprehensive section on writing challenges particular to plurilingual students, and is recommended for that reason. This could be a "recommended" if not required text for almost any course, if students do not already own such a book.

3. Hjortshoj, Keith. The Transition to College Writing. Boston: Bedford, 2d ed. 2009.

This slim volume is chock full of helpful advice to first-year students in every discipline. In addition to highlighting which "rules for writing" learned in high school won't help in college, and providing new suggestions, Hjortshoj also discusses how to handle the reading load, how to adjust to different expectations in different disciplines, and more. Quite readable by students on their own, and a great addition to any first-year course, including Montserrat.

Then there are the witty attempts to teach grammar and punctuation. The wit tends to be in the eye of the beholder--you have to find one that appeals to you. One that's a little too flippant for my taste, but some might like, is:

4. Fogarty, Mignon. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. New York, Holt, 2008.

Includes advice for various forms of communication, e.g. etiquette of emails and tweets.

5. Truss, Lynn. Eats, Shoots and Leaves. New York: Penguin/Gotham, 2003.

A witty discussion of how to punctuate correctly. The title demonstrates a misplaced comma in an account of how pandas feed. I suspect the humor here is more accessible to older students and might be best assigned to a seminar. Only a little discussion in class would be needed--and could be fun.

6. Farnsworth, Ward. Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric. Boston: Godine, 2010.

The title is misleading, as this book does not deal with all of rhetoric, but only with style, illustrating tropes and figures with excerpts from great literature through the ages. An enjoyable read, again, primarily for older students, and should not be assigned unless you intend to spend some time in class encouraging students to develop an elegant personal style of writing.


Professor Mulrooney's Sample for Peer Review Assignments
(as seen in in-class writing workshop):