One of several findings of Sweetland’s review of the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) is that transfer students on average receive lower grades in ULWR courses than continuing students. In an effort to provide more support for transfer students, Sweetland developed Writing 350 in fall 2013, a course designed to be taken alongside a ULWR course. While this course has proved to be helpful to transfer students, a number of students indicated that they were not sure whether or not they should take Writing 350.
In addition, surveys, focus groups, and interviews showed that many transfer students were taken aback by the amount and type of writing expected of them when they arrived on campus. Even though they had done well in writing courses at their previous institutions and were excellent students overall, they were challenged by the discipline-based writing in ULWR courses.
In response, Sweetland created a Directed Self-Placement (DSP) process for transfer students. Like the DSP required of all matriculating first-year students, the transfer DSP conveys the message that writing is highly valued at the University of Michigan, and it also gives students a clear idea of the type of writing they will be expected to do. There are, however, some significant differences between the two DSP processes.
The first-year DSP asks students to read a relatively complex article and write an evidence-based argument in response to the article, similar to essays students are asked to write in First-Year Writing Requirement courses. The resulting essay is forwarded to the instructor of the student’s first writing course where it can serve as a diagnostic for the instructor and a benchmark for the student.
In contrast, the transfer DSP is framed in more disciplinary terms. Students are asked to identify which of the three divisions of LSA – humanities, social science or natural science – will be their disciplinary home. Then they are directed to an actual assignment prompt from a ULWR course within the chosen division, and are asked to write an explanation of what the assignment expects students to do, with particular attention to the disciplinary conventions highlighted. A sample student response to the prompt is also provided, and transfer students are asked to write a brief evaluation of the writing, indicating the ways it does or does not address the assignment and disciplinary writing conventions. Finally, transfer students are asked to evaluate their own preparation for responding to assignments like the one they have just read. The transfer students’ responses generate a recommendation about Writing 350, and all transfer students are invited to visit Sweetland during the first weeks of the semester to discuss their experiences with writing and to learn more about the resources Sweetland can offer them.
The transfer DSP was initiated in the spring of 2015, and several hundred students have already participated in it. Researchers at Sweetland are currently analyzing students’ written responses in order to improve this DSP process and to develop an understanding of how transfer students’ prior experiences with writing can be most effectively mobilized to help them meet the challenges of ULWR courses.