Singing the praises of hands-on learning

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Local News

August 23, 2018 - 10:10 AM

Emily Crabtree likes to learn.
And she loves the classroom.
But it wasn’t always easy.
An undiagnosed reading disorder often meant struggling in the classroom.
“I was a B-C student,” she admitted. “It was a struggle. I didn’t know why I couldn’t read fast enough.”
And if students think they’re not smart enough, their enthusiasm for school quickly dampens.
“It makes you feel like a failure,” Crabtree said.
She sees herself as fortunate.
Encouragement from a couple of teachers at just the right time, and an emphasis on visual learning, convinced Crabtree she could work through her classroom struggles.
She did so, and even pursued a teaching career in the process.
Crabtree originally taught art for a year, before deciding her passion lay elsewhere.
So she took a year off, earned certification to teach science, and is now a seventh-grade life science instructor at Iola Middle School.
Crabtree, 28, spoke of her whirlwind career this week with a Register reporter.
“It seems like things never really go as planned,” she said with a laugh.

CRABTREE, daughter of former Iolan Gary Crabtree, was born and raised in St. Louis before her parents returned to southeast Kansas, to Welda.
By then, Crabtree was well on her way to a teaching career.
“And by then, I had put myself into a little art box when I got to college,” she said. ‘Art was what I was good at.”
She taught art to kindergarten through 12th grades in Osage City.
“But what I found was that while I loved art, I didn’t love teaching art,” she said. “And I really didn’t  enjoy the pace of K-12.”
Crabtree found herself connecting more with middle-schoolers.
“High-schoolers didn’t really seem to take anything I said to heart,” she recalled. “Elementary kids were just glad to see me, anyway.
“I don’t know middle school speaks to me,” she said with a hearty laugh. “Maybe I’m just a special kind of crazy.”

MANY TEACHERS can easily point out their favorite parts of their jobs — when youngsters find their ‘AHA’ moment and grasp a concept previously foreign to them.
Crabtree, conversely, appreciates moments earlier in the learning process.
“What I like most is watching a kid struggle, then feel comfortable enough to ask for help,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of kids know how to ask for help any more. They’re so afraid to fail that they don’t try. I like being able to help them get past that.”
Crabtree speaks from her own experience.
Her reading struggles often led to moments of self-doubt.
“If you fail a couple of times, or just don’t get it as fast as someone else, you tend to write yourself off,” she noted.
Art became her salvation.
Crabtree’s eye for detail and craftsmanship often set her apart from her classmates, even though she readily admits her creativity is nothing special.
It was from her art background, however, that Crabtree found herself thriving in classes that relied more on hands-on learning than in those that relied on reading and memorization.
“Those multiplication tables never did stick” she laughed.
It wasn’t until a few years ago Crabtree discovered why.
A friend noticed she had little trouble reading articles in newspapers, magazines and some textbooks, but rarely, if ever, read from novels.
“I have this tracking issue with my eyes,” she said. “I can’t read text if it runs across a full page. If it’s in columns, I have no trouble with it.
“Looking back, it’s probably always been that way,” she said. “It’ just nice to know that it’s this thing instead of me thinking I can’t read novels.”
With that comes a deeper appreciation of project-based learning, especially with science.
“Science is something I’ve always wanted to learn more about,” she said. “As I got better as a student, I enjoyed science more. It’s solving things. It’s not just remembering an equation.”

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