Crusan’s (2011) article “The Promise of Directed Self-Placement for Second Language Writers” underscores the advantages of directed self-placement (DSP) methods over so-called “classic” placement approaches, which, as Crusan rightly noted, assume financial expenses and political decisions, and which may not be fully appropriate if used as a sole evaluation criterion (e.g., the case with standardized tests). I absolutely agree with these claims, but I’d like to address a few caveats that we need to keep in mind when implementing DSP.
Reflection as a New Concept
First, I share Crusan’s (2011) position that DSP “seats accountability squarely on the shoulders of those who purportedly know their writing skills better than anyone else: the writers themselves” (p. 777). However, I noticed that most students need to be exposed to the genre of reflective writing before they can make accurate judgment of their own writing abilities. Not because they are bad writers, but simply because at the beginning, for many of them the concepts of self-evaluation and reflection are alien. In my writing classes, I like to implement reflective components into my course assignments, and many students ultimately come to appreciate the value of reflections. However, when first introduced to reflective journals, project evaluations, or other activities based on at least some degree of self-assessment, nearly all students struggle identifying their writing strengths and weaknesses or/and appropriately evaluating their composing strategies.
Overestimating One’s Abilities
Some students may also run the risk of overestimating their actual abilities simply because they would like to make a good impression on their future instructor. In other words, they might think that although the placement test is based on their self-evaluation, their responses will be available to their teachers who will form a distinct opinion about the student’s writing proficiency and which, in turn, may affect the student’s performance and even the course grade.
Crafting the Questionnaire
Another problem that can hinder the effectiveness of DSP, but which in fact is quite easy so solve, is “cognitively-heavy” vocabulary used in self-assessment questionnaires. Teachers and program administrators need to be careful in formulating questions on self-assessment instruments and avoid using composition jargon that oftentimes L2 writers are not able to understand. I noticed, for example, that while many of my students have had previous experiences with paraphrasing, they may not be familiar with the term itself.
Issues of Power and Authority
The final point I’d like to address relates to the notion of power. I absolutely agree with Crusan (2011) that providing students with the opportunities to self-evaluate their writing abilities and make appropriate placement decisions based on this evaluation may indeed empower students, and this of course may play a positive role in their motivation, investment, and accountability.
At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that many of our students are coming from educational backgrounds where the school administration is considered the authority, and the top-down approach to testing and evaluation is viewed as the only legit type of assessment. It is quite possible, therefore, that the course—and the program as well—may lose credibility in the eyes of the students as well as their trust in the program’s ability to effectively educate them. It’s similar to visiting a doctor: We expect the doctor to evaluate the symptoms, to do the appropriate tests, and to diagnose the problem. As patients, we don’t do this on our own, simply because we do not have the appropriate education and professional experience.
That being said, I do believe that directed self-placement can effectively contribute to the process of decision-making and placing students at the right level. And by addressing the above (and potentially some other) issues, we will assure its effectiveness.
Crusan, D. (2011). The promise of directed self‐placement for Second Language Writers. TESOL Quarterly, 45(4), 774-780.