Skip to Content

Instructor FAQs about DSP

These FAQs are also included in the DSP Instructor Guide (pdf).

What is the Directed Self-Placement (DSP) Process?

The DSP asks students to (1) read a substantive article, or articles, of the kind they might be assigned in their first-year writing course, (2) write an evidence-based argument in response to a prompt, and (3) answer ten questions about their experiences as writers.

Who takes the DSP?

All LSA (except those in the Honors Program), Art & Design, Kinesiology, Music, Nursing, and Ross School of Business first-year students, as well as transfer 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. Engineering students are not required to complete the DSP. 

When should the DSP be completed?

Students should complete the DSP at least 5 business days before their Orientation date.

What are the goals of the DSP?

For Students:

  • Writing the DSP essay gives students the experience of doing the kind of writing that will be expected of them at U-M.
  • Many students have told us that they had no idea what to expect when they made the transition into college level writing. DSP helps them notice gaps between the kind of writing they did in high school and the kind they will do in college.
  • The DSP process gives students useful information about themselves as writers to help them decide which writing course to take first.
  • Incoming students take placement tests in other subjects during the summer, and DSP sends the message that writing will also play a key role in their success as students.

For Instructors:

  • As a First-Year Writing Requirement course instructor you can access your students’ essays before classes begin on the following website. The essays are intended to help you identify your students writing needs and plan for the coming semester. 
  • Students are told when they complete the DSP that their writing instructors will read the essays and incorporate them into coursework. Knowing there is a real audience for their writing helps motivate students to engage fully in the DSP process, and thereby increase the likelihood that they will enroll in the course that best fits their needs. Your first-year students will be thinking about you and your expectations before the semester even begins. Students are often eager for your feedback on their essays, whether oral, written, or given to the class as a whole regarding patterns you noticed, etc. 

How are the DSP results used?

How are the DSP results used?

  • Advisors use information from the DSP to help students select a first writing course that will best serve their needs. 
  • Essays written in response to the DSP prompt are available to each student’s first writing course instructor on the following page. The Sweetland Center for Writing expects instructors to read each essay to identify student needs and to incorporate the essays into the course. For ideas about how to use the DSP essays in your class, visit our Using DSP Essays in the Classroom page. 
  • The Sweetland Center for Writing uses the data gathered from the DSP to learn more about students’ strengths and weaknesses as writers and to improve writing instruction at U-M. 

What happens to students who do not complete the DSP?

  • Students who do not complete the DSP before Orientation receive less guidance in selecting their first writing course when they register for courses, and are still required to complete the essay no later than the first week of classes. 
  • Students who do not complete the DSP may lose their place in their writing course.
  • Students who do not complete the DSP may be unable to complete required assignments in their first writing course that are based on the DSP essay. 

How do I access my students’ DSP essays?

See page 5 of the DSP Instructor Guide (pdf) packet for instructions on how to access your students’ essays.

How do I use the DSP essays in my course?

See pages 7-9 of the DSP Instructor Guide (pdf) packet for suggestions on how to use the DSP essays in your course. The Sweetland Center for Writing has also compiled an extensive list of writing assignments, activities, and other ways that instructors have used the DSP essays in their courses on the Using the DSP in the Classroom

What if the topic of the DSP articles and essay is unrelated to my course theme?

First-year writing courses at UM vary tremendously in theme and disciplinary focus. Using instructor feedback, the Sweetland Center for Writing and the DSP Committee make every effort to select DSP articles and craft DSP prompts that will be relevant to a broad range of course themes. Many activities using the DSP essays will focus on broader issues of student writing, goal-setting, and self-assessment and need not reference the DSP articles or theme at all. To become involved in shaping the next DSP, contact Sweetland Director Anne Gere at argere@umich.edu.

What if some of the students in my course didn’t write a DSP essay?

First-year students entering the College of Engineering or LSA Honors are not required to complete the DSP. 

If you have any of these students in your writing course, they might not have essays to work with for in-class activities or revision or reflection exercises that you assign using students’ DSP essays. Rather than letting this become a reason not to use the DSP essays in class, instructors have found creative ways to include these students. For instance, you might: 

  • Design activities or assignments to be flexible, so that students can use other essays that they wrote in high school, or during their first semester at UM or another college or university. 
  • Modify early course assignments for these students so that they have an opportunity to write an essay in response to this year’s DSP prompt—for example, you might ask these students to write the DSP essay rather than the assigned reading reflection that the rest of the class is working on for a particular week. 

Students who are required to complete the DSP and have not done so should be asked to complete it within the first week of classes by going to Sweetland’s DSP for Writing website where you can then access it. Students who do not complete the DSP may lose their place in their writing course. 

What if some of my students wrote their DSP essays based on a previous prompt?

The DSP articles and essay prompt change from year to year, so if some of the students in your course are not first-year students, their DSP essays will be on a different topic than most of their classmates. However, this does not mean that you should avoid using the DSP essay in your course. Instructors have devised many ways to overcome this challenge:

  • Design activities or assignments to be flexible, so that students are able to learn the writing strategies or principles you are targeting regardless of which DSP prompt they received as incoming students.
  • Modify the activity or assignment so that students who responded to previous years’ DSP prompts have an opportunity to reflect on the how their writing has developed over a greater time span.
  • Modify the activity or assignment so that students who responded to a previous year’s prompt have an opportunity to reflect on the differences and similarities between the kinds of writing required by their prompt and this year’s prompt.
  • If necessary, give students the opportunity to read (or reread) this year’s DSP article, so that all students are familiar with the text to which most of their peers are responding.

What if some of my students have already worked with their DSP essays?

Because some students decide to enroll in WRITING 100 or WRITING 120 before entering their First-Year Writing Requirement (FYWR) course, you might have students who have already used their DSP essays in some way in their previous course. Instructors have come up with several ways to make their DSP-related activities and assignments relevant for these students:

  • Modify the activity or assignment for students who have already worked with their DSP essays so that they are pushed to reflect more deeply than their classmates who are revisiting their essays for the first time.
  • If you are asking students to revise their DSP essays, urge these students to reread the DSP article and revise their DSP essays even more extensively so that they can see how their thinking and writing is continuing to grow and change.
  • Design activities or assignments to be flexible, so that students can use other essays that they wrote in high school, or during their first semester at UM or another college or university.

What if I have a transfer student who has already met the First-Year Writing Requirement and completed the Transfer Student Directed Self-Placement?

Transfer students in LSA, Art & Design, and School of Music who have completed a Sweetland-approved First-Year Writing Requirement course at their previous college or university were asked to complete the Transfer Student Directed Self-Placement for Writing to give them insight into the kind of writing expected of upper-division undergraduates at U-M. Therefore, these students might not have essays to work with for in-class activities or revision or reflection exercises that you assign using students’ DSP essays. Rather than letting this become a reason not to use the DSP essays in class, instructors have found creative ways to include these students. For instance, you might: 

  • Design activities or assignments to be flexible, so that students can use other essays that they wrote in high school, or during their first semester at UM or another college or university. 
  • Modify early course assignments for these students so that they have an opportunity to write an essay in response to this year’s DSP prompt—for example, you might ask these students to write the DSP essay rather than the assigned reading reflection that the rest of the class is working on for a particular week. 

Who can I contact for more information?

Please address questions, comments, or concerns to sweetlandinfo@umich.edu.