10. Using the Directed Self-Placement (DSP)

What Is Directed Self-Placement? ^

Directed Self-Placement, or DSP, is the University of Michigan’s way of helping incoming students decide whether they are ready to enter their First-Year Writing Requirement (FYWR) course immediately, or whether they would benefit from first taking either WRITING 100, an ungraded transition to college writing course, or WRITING 120, a course for international and multilingual undergraduate students, both taught by experienced Sweetland faculty.

Incoming students and transfer students who have not completed a Sweetland-approved First-Year Writing Requirement course at their previous college or university (except those in the LSA Honors Program and College of Engineering) are required to complete the DSP at least five business days before their scheduled orientation session. From the student perspective, the DSP process includes the following steps:

  1. Proceed to the DSP for Writing website:https://www.lsa.umich.edu/sweetlanddsp/firstyear
  2. Read the DSP instructions.
  3. Read the DSP article and essay prompt.
  4. Compose a 1200-1500 word essay in response to the prompt.
  5. Upload the essay to the DSP for Writing website.
  6. Answer the DSP for Writing self-assessment questions.
  7. Receive and discuss a writing placement recommendation with an advisor at orientation.
  8. Discuss or work with the DSP essay in some way in the students’ first writing course.

Instructors are an integral part of the success of Directed Self-Placement at the University of Michigan, so it is important that all First-Year Writing Requirement (FYWR) understand the DSP process.

In order to understand what DSP is, however, it is important to understand what DSP is not.

  1. DSP is not a placement test. DSP is an alternative to the mandatory writing placement assessments used at many other colleges and universities, which typically rely on standardized test scores or timed impromptu essays. The University of Michigan believes that these kinds of assessments send students the wrong message about the expectations of college-level writing. Instead, the DSP process is designed to help students understand the kinds of thinking and writing that are valued at the University by asking them to engage in a more authentic college writing task. Students then assess their own readiness for college-level writing based on this experience.
  2. DSP does not place students into a writing course. DSP helps students place themselves. The online DSP process generates a writing course recommendation based on students’ responses to the self-assessment questions they complete after submitting their essay, and advisors discuss this recommendation with students during orientation. However, students are ultimately responsible for making their own decision about whether to begin with WRITING 120 or WRITING 100, or to enroll directly into a FYWR course.
  3. Students’ DSP essays are not evaluated as part of the placement process.

The essays are made available to students’ FYWR, WRITING 100 and WRITING 120 instructors, who use them:

  1. to get a sense of students’ writing abilities
  2. as the basis for class activities and assignments
  3. as a way to help students reflect on how their writing has grown over the course of the semester.

When students begin the DSP process, they are informed that their instructors will be reading the essays they write. This is part of what motivates students to take the DSP process seriously, and they are often disappointed or frustrated if their instructor never discusses or makes use of their DSP essay in class.

Why Use Students’ DSP Essays in Class? ^

The DSP instructions that students receive make the following promise:

Once you register for your first writing course, your instructor will read your DSP essay to familiarize him- or herself with your writing and to help you develop as a writer in college.

For many students, this promise that their future instructor will read their work and provide some kind of feedback is what motivates them to put their best effort into the essay. Students sometimes feel disappointed or frustrated when they work hard on an essay and receive no indication from their instructor that their writing has been read.

In surveys conducted by Sweetland, students have expressed such reactions in comments like the following:

“I actually did outside research and wrote an informed paper, but not once has the essay been addressed since I’ve set foot on campus.”

“The essay I wrote was not brought up by my teacher so I do not even know if he read it or not.”

“I think if our teacher addressed the papers we had written and gave us feedback on those I would feel that they had been more worthwhile. My teacher never once mentioned this paper .”

“It was sort of annoying that I did the essay, but then did not really receive any feedback on it from my advisor or from my teacher. It was like I did it for nothing.”

“The research paper I was asked to do was not brought up at all by teacher in Eng. 125, and I thought it was misleading how the DSP Essay Instructions said they would be used by our teachers.”

As these quotes suggest, when the connection between assessment and instruction is not made, students see the DSP process as irrelevant or even disingenuous. It is therefore important that first-year writing instructors find ways to integrate students’ DSP essays into their in-class activities, assignments, or conferences/office hours.

How to Access Your Students’ DSP Essays

Below you’ll find a brief look at how to access students’  DSP Essays. When you are ready to access and read the essays, you might find it helpful to open this fuller version with screen shots (on page 5).

  1. Direct your browser to the following website: https://webapps.lsa.umich.edu/SAA/UGStuAdv/App/Instr/ClassDSPEssays.aspx.
  2. If you are not already logged in to the University of Michigan system, log in using your umich username and password.
  3. If it’s not already selected, choose the term you are teaching from the dropdown menu. After you select the term, the rosters for all of the WRITING 100, WRITING 120, and/or FYWR courses you are teaching during that term will appear. If you do not see your particular roster, contact your department’s Student Services staff to confirm that you are associated with the course in Wolverine Access (WA). If you are associated with the course in WA and still do not see your roster, email lsa.mis.advsupport@umich.edu for assistance.
  4. To download a .zip file that contains all available DSP essays for your course, click the “Zip Essays” button at the top right of the roster.
  5. To download an individual student essay, click the “View Essay” button to the left of that student’s name.
  6. Your course roster may change frequently before classes start and during the first few weeks of the term. Revisit this site as often as necessary to find the most current compilation of essays for your course.
  7. There may be students in your course who have not completed the DSP. All incoming first-year students and transfer students (except LSA Honors Program and College of Engineering students) who have not completed a Sweetland-approved First-Year Writing Requirement course at their previous college or university are required to complete the DSP .

Students who are required to complete the DSP essay and have not done so should be asked to complete it within the first week of classes by going to the DSP for Writing website at https://www.lsa.umich.edu/sweetlanddsp/firstyear. Students who do not complete the DSP may lose their place in their writing course. For further information about students who have not completed the DSP essay, see pages 34-35 of the FAQ in this packet.

Using Students’ DSP Essays in Class ^

Connecting assessment to instruction is one of the guiding principles of the University of Michigan’s Directed Self-Placement process. The following is just a sampling of the ways instructors from first-year writing courses have used the DSP essay in their classes.

Diagnostic Uses

  • Read the essays before classes begin to assess student learning needs and prioritize topics for individual and group instruction.
  • Ask students to re‐read their essays at the beginning of class and write a “self‐diagnosis” of their strengths and needs as a writer, based upon their re‐reading.

Goal Setting

  • Have students develop a list of three specific writing‐related goals, based on strengths and weaknesses identified in their DSP Essays. Then have students free‐write and/or discuss ways they intend to implement a plan to achieve these goals.

Engaging in the Writing Process

  • Ask students to recall their experience of writing the DSP essay and write reflectively about it. Encourage use of concrete examples. Ask: “Based on this experience, how do you plan to approach writing assignments for this course and other courses?”
  • Have the students list on the board problems they encountered as well as successes they experienced while writing the essays. Discuss as a class.

Workshop/Peer Review Practice

  • Have students read and comment on sample DSP essays from volunteers in the class. Conduct a full‐class discussion of the essays and lead a workshop to model expectations for peer review.

Office Hours or Conferencing

  • Use the DSP essays as a vehicle to schedule brief one‐to‐one conversations or office hours with students early in the term.
  • Use the DSP essay as a point of departure to compare expectations, discuss goals for the semester, and examine students’ strengths and weaknesses as writers.

Teaching Audience Awareness

  • Have students describe or write about the “imagined audience” for their essays when teaching on rhetoric/ audience. Have them revise the essays for different audiences, or discuss how they might go about doing so.

Evaluating Summarizing Skills

  • Have students identify in their essays where they summarized arguments from the article. Ask: “How do you distinguish summary from analysis?”
  • Ask students to read their summary sections aloud in pairs, and discuss how they might revise to be more comprehensive or appropriate.

Teaching Thesis and Evaluation

  • In pairs, have students identify their thesis statements and work to refine them.
  • Have students create a “reverse outline” of their essay, listing their argument’s main points from each paragraph. Ask: “What might you change, add, subtract, or reorganize to better support your central argument?”

Teaching Nuance and Complexity

  • Using the DSP Rubric, ask students to consider the implications of the category “Nuance & Complexity.” Discuss what it means to acknowledge other perspectives and to avoid sweeping generalizations, in the interest of making nuanced and complex assertions in academic writing.

Teaching Evidence and Quotation

  • In groups, have students list the evidence used in the article to support its claims. Then ask students to look at their own essays, alone or in pairs or groups, to identify the evidence they used in support of the assertions they made. Discuss the differences.
  • Have students read their essays and identify places where they integrated material from the article into their writing, distinguishing instances of direct quotation, paraphrase, and summary. Ask them to consider the effectiveness of each instance.

Gaining Experience with Rubrics

  • Have students brainstorm a list of qualities of “good college writing.” Compare these to the DSP rubric and discuss in class.
  • Use the DSP rubric to have students evaluate each other’s DSP essays. Then have them consider how to use this feedback for goal‐setting.
  • Have students revisit the essays and write a letter to themselves, pointing out how they might approach the task differently, or describing improvements they’ve noticed, or issues that remain.
  • Include the DSP essays in a portfolio of coursework, along with reflective pieces on their writing development from the DSP essay until now.

Mid-Term or End-of-Term Assessment

  • At the midpoint or end of the semester, ask students to self‐assess their development by having them re‐read their DSP Essay and compare it to a recent course paper. Ask them to write about how their writing has changed.

More Resources on the DSP ^

Each year, students receive a different article to read similar to those they will encounter in their classesAccordingly, the prompt changes each year and is tailored to the specific issues the article addresses. It will be particularly valuable to read both the article and the prompts that student see and you can access these here. By following this link to Sweetland’s DSP pages below, you can also see the instructions that students are given and so better understand how to engage with their writing. It might be particularly useful to know that Sweetland sends out reminders about the DSP at the start of the semester, complete with links to this information and a folder of your students’ essays.

DSP Instructor Resources ” Sweetland Center for Writing. Web.

DSP Student Page.” Sweetland Center for Writing. Web.

The Sweetland Center for Writing’s Directed Self-Placement (DSP) for Writing: Resources for Instructors.” Sweetland Center for Writing. Web.