Skip to Content

Levstik, Linda S., and D. Smith. “‘I’ve Never Done This Before’: Building a Community of Inquiry in a Third-grade Classroom.” In Teaching and Learning History. Advances in Research on Teaching 6, edited by J. Brophy, 85-114. Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1996.


This study was conducted in a third grade American classroom to evaluate students’ learning of research skills for historical inquiry. Throughout the year the researchers presented the students with written tasks requiring them to develop different research skills such as hypothesizing, data gathering, analysis, and report writing. The researchers used students’ written work, field notes from observations of teaching, the teacher’s journal, and interviews with the teacher as data. The data were analyzed to examine the type of teacher scaffolding that supported student learning and the success of this teaching on students’ ability to develop historical questions worth investigating.

Levstik and Smith found that students brought knowledge about how to do research such as the concept of “looking it up” and “finding the facts” that they learn outside of the classroom to bring to historical inquiry in the classroom. This in fact made learning the “language and methods of historical inquiry” more difficult for students as they often reverted back to old practices. Further, students had to learn that historical inquiry is not just about verifying and collecting facts but rather about providing explanations. The authors also concluded that visual sources were important to the success of students’ learning. Lastly, the authors recommend that teachers use a diversity of scaffolding methods to help students avoid falling back on old practices.

Ana Laura Pauchulo