New Standards and Opportunities

Rethinking Good Writing in Schools


  • Jennifer Berne Harper College
  • Susan McMahon National Louis University



assessment, prewriting, rubrics


New standards for writing provide the opportunity to rethink definitions of what writing is in schools. While traditional assessment methods align with many of the new standards and offer an important tool for gauging the success of some elements of writing, they often neglect other elements. In traditional assessment, the elements that are quantifiable become those that are valued. Teachers can promote consideration of other elements, those intangibles that change a text from an assignment to be completed into a powerful communicative act, by intervening in the prewriting or planning stage of the writing process. This article discusses one possible form of intervention in which the teacher has a conversation with a student that centers on the student’s investment of interest in her/his topic and helps the student plan a paper that will make a unique contribution and not just fulfill a task. By using a prewriting rubric to focus the conversation, the teacher is able to track student progress in understanding and enacting this important component of writing.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Berne, Harper College

Jennifer Berne, Ph.D. is the Dean of Liberal Arts at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Prior to her work as an administrator, she was on faculty at Oakland University and National Louis University where she taught classes in undergraduate literacy methods and Master’s and Doctoral courses in research and theory in writing. She began her career as a professor specializing in Basic Reading and Basic Writing at Oakland Community College in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her professional publications include books on middle grades writing conferences, high school writing workshop, and college composition. She continues to publish and present on writing assessment, writing instruction, and to work in the professional development of writing teachers.

Susan McMahon, National Louis University

Susan McMahon, Ph.D. is a literacy professor at National Louis University. She directs both the NCE Integrated Doctoral Program and the Reading and Language Doctoral Program. She also teaches both doctoral and master’s level reading classes. Before joining the faculty at National Louis, she was faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also taught classes at Michigan State University while working on her doctorate. Prior to that, she taught middle and high school language arts in Michigan and Kentucky. She won the Harold E. Mitzel Award for Meritorious Contribution to Educational Practice Through Research, from the Journal of Educational Research Editorial Board. Her current scholarly interests include work on comprehension and whole school change.


Cullham, R. (2003). 6 + 1 traits of writing: The complete guide. Grades 3 and up. Portland, Or: Northwest Regional Education Laboratory.

Elbow, P. (1981) Writing with Power: Techniques for mastering the writing process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hillocks, G. (2002) The testing trap: How state writing assessments control learning. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

McCutchen, D. (2006) Cognitive factors in the development of children’s writing. In MacArthur, C.A., Graham, S. & Fitgerald G. (Eds.) Handbook of writing research 115--131. New York: Guilford Press.

Moffett, James (1981). Active voice: A writing program across the curriculum. Portsmouth NH: Boynton-Cook.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors.

Selvester, P. M. & Summers, D. G. (2012) Socially responsible literacy: Educating adolescents for purpose and power. New York: TC Press.

Wiley, Mark (2000) The popularity of formulaic writing, and why we need to resist. English Journal 90 Vol. 1: 60--67



How to Cite

Berne, J., & McMahon, S. (2015). New Standards and Opportunities: Rethinking Good Writing in Schools. Writing and Pedagogy, 7(2-3), 377-394.



Reflections on Practice