Directed Self-Placement—a Brief Introduction


            Disenchantment with traditional methods of placing students into first-year writing classes—even thoughtful methods that used holistically scored essays (as opposed to verbal SAT cutoff scores) or portfolios—led a few writing program administrators, most notably Daniel J. Royer and Roger Gilles at Grand Valley State University, to develop an unorthodox alternative: directed self-placement (DSP).  They recognized that (1) placement test scores were often poor indicators of how students would actually do in their first writing class, (2) eighteen-year-old students deserved to have a say in their placement, and (3) students would be more motivated in their basic writing courses if they actually wanted to be there.  Their rationale consciously followed Paolo Freire’s injunction to “[go] as far as [we can] in helping people develop the capacity to make decisions and to take responsibility” (Royer and Gilles, “Attitude” 114).  Royer and Gilles also used self-efficacy theory to support the notion that students could make appropriate choices involving their education.  To put their idea into practice, they developed and evaluated a series of statements used to help students reflect on their own experiences.  Other schools have implemented DSP as well, creating similar statements, for example “Generally, I don’t read when I don’t have to” and “In high school, I did not do much writing,” or statements that contrast with one another: “My high school GPA was about average” vs. “My high school GPA placed me in the top third of my class” (Blakesley, Harvey, and Reynolds 223-224).  Students decide which statements best match their experience and compare them with profiles of statements that matched students who have typically succeeded in regular college English or matched students who needed a basic writing course.  Finally, students examine the course descriptions, reflect on their own motivations, and, if desired, have a conversation with a placement counselor before placing themselves in their first-year writing course.  Research at several schools shows that DSP is not only as good as previous placement regimes; it can surpass them, enabling students to succeed at comparable or higher rates and creating basic writing classrooms that students want to attend (Royer and Gilles, Principles).