If you are a teacher, I need your guidance. I’m confused about how to best help your students when they reach out to me.
Quite regularly, I receive email inquiries from high school students who are in the midst of doing research papers. I suppose they find me by Googling their research topic or looking through the list of experts at Psychology Today. When they find authors who have written about their topics, they email a bunch of us and hope someone will take the time out of our extremely busy schedules to respond to a series of questions. Presumably, these expert answers will be summarized in your student’s final papers.
I love helping young people. But quite honestly, I have a big issue with the growing trend of asking experts to think for students. What happened to the day when students picked and honed research questions, read articles that experts had written, then wrote a paper that critically reviewed those articles?
Instead, it feels like students want me to think for them. Here is an email I received just a few days ago, printed here with no name or school attached. (Admittedly, though, I couldn’t resist correcting the most glaring grammatical errors before publishing.)
Hello Mrs. Price-Mitchell,
I'm conducting an interview for my English class for a research project. My question that I will be discussing is this: How is technology affecting how children learn and how they are being raised?
I have 10 questions I would like for you to answer for me to help me in my quest for success in my research project.
Please get back to me as soon as you can with your responses, I am awaiting your reply. Thank you.
I had a flurry of feelings, thoughts, and reactions as I read through this young person’s email, including the following:
I’m a developmental psychologist, not a teacher. But I’d like to understand an assignment like this from a teacher’s perspective. Am I wrong to think this type of process does not encourage critical thinking? What does a student learn from it? Clearly, there must be value that I am missing.
Why would a student ask me or another expert to answer questions for them when they could find better, more thought-provoking answers by reading what I’ve published on their topic of interest? I can only surmise that it takes much more time to explore those articles. What about the hours, weeks, months, and years it takes to be a good researcher and then write about the topics you’ve researched? Doesn’t anyone want to read and digest those articles anymore?
Teachers, please help me understand. How can I best help your students when they reach out to me with an assignment like this? I’m perplexed.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist and researcher working at the intersection of youth development, leadership, education, and civic engagement. Subscribe to Updates at Roots of Action to receive email notices of Marilyn’s articles.
©2014 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.
Image Credit:Galina Barskaya