ACT Certified Educator Training

I recently attended a training session in Arlington, Virginia to become an ACT Certified Educator in English. This program required me to complete a 16-hour course and pass two tests. The credential indicates I know the content underpinning the test—the grammar, punctuation, idiomatic language, etc.—as well as appropriate test-taking strategies and methods for remediating gaps in knowledge.

The best part of the class was that it confirmed many of my pedagogical instincts. For instance, it’s very important for students to understand why they got a question wrong, but it’s equally essential for me to be able to recognize the “gaps” in their knowledge when they choose a wrong answer. That presents a powerful opportunity for learning—a teachable moment.

I always tell students it’s helpful to have an editor mindset when taking the ACT English. So, when our instructor spoke about this test in terms of a perfect piece of writing being “broken,” I gave a mental fist pump. It is the job of the test-taker to recognize and make the corrections. When a student knows basic grammar skills, she is either able to choose the correct version immediately or eliminate those that are incorrect. That’s how it works in an ideal situation. But we know that applying a rule can sometimes be tricky. That’s why, as tutors, we work so much with practice items. It’s a form of learning known as “rehearsal.” As students practice the cognitive, active process of applying rules and deducing answers, they become adept at it.

When I was teaching in public schools, most of my colleagues hated test preparation. Of course, I could feel their pain. They objected to poorly designed test questions, time lost from their own curriculum, or the misery the tests seemed to inflict upon students. Yet, there was always a part of me that liked the challenge of it, the let’s-figure-this-out of it. In a subject that is often very nuanced, it was fun to deal with more cut and dried examples.

When you deal with a new standardized test (and I had to deal with plenty of them over the years) there is always a learning curve—for the teachers and the students. The ACT is no different. Once you know what is being tested and what to look for, it becomes much easier. That’s why test prep works.

Note: Before a candidate can complete any ACT subject area certification, he or she must complete an 8-hour Basics course and test. This credential covers areas including test fundamentals, administration and professionalism.

ACT Certified Educator–Basics issued by ACT Certified Educator to Alisa  Fisher

ACT Certified Educator–English issued by ACT Certified Educator to Alisa  Fisher


Search Engine Optimized, Thanks to Your English Teacher!

Who knew you could master the hyper competitive world of online marketing by doing everything your English teacher told you to do?

I made this discovery at a Cincinnati workshop about Search Engine Optimization. As the presenter spoke about the importance of key words in Google searches, the English teacher in me was having an aha moment. I was struck by the similarities between the skills he was describing and all the activities I was using with students in the classroom.

Many exercises revolve around a student’s ability to summarize the main idea of a passage. In writing, students practice how to state their main idea in a thesis statement. During test prep we underline the key words in the questions; many of the questions themselves ask students to identify the author’s purpose for writing. The skills that had so often been at the heart of my English classes—narrowing a passage down to the big ideas—were closely related to how Google was set up.

Google wants users to find what they’re looking for quickly. The algorithms filter for key words, so it behooves people who create businesses to choose their names very carefully. For instance, if you sell pet carriers on the Internet, it’s better to be called Cozy Carriers than Pet Pied-a-Terre, and it’s even better to be called Cozy Carriers for Pets. The best name would be Cozy Pet Carriers because it turns out the proximity of the key words is just as important as the key words themselves. All perfectly logical.

Even a website’s blog will fail if the language in it does not align with search word intent. I’m in trouble with this post because I haven’t mentioned the ACT or test preparation. On the other hand, as a business owner, I realize now how lucky we were to choose a name for our business that contains our key words: ACT Prep. It was tempting to choose an alliterative name like Pinnacle Prep, but this is one case when being clear was way more important than being clever.

And now we come full circle: one of the most heavily tested areas on the ACT English is concision. We’re living in the Information Age and we’re drowning in content, so you must have the ability to filter. That’s what is meant by critical thinking skills. It’s exactly what a person is doing when she tries to zero in on the key ideas in a piece of writing. Just like Google focuses on key words. Thank goodness everything your English teacher has been teaching you was right!





Why I Teach Online

Learning to teach in an online school like the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) wasn’t easy. After fifteen years in brick and mortar schools, it was boot camp. Yet, once I got the hang of it, there was no looking back. I knew I was witnessing a revolution in education, and within eighteen months I was already thinking about how to go into business for myself.

When ECOT offered a Certificate of Online and Blended Learning at the University of Cincinnati, I jumped. I learned about a new field called instructional technology: how to record sophisticated learning videos, how to arrange course materials in a Learning Management System (LMS), and how to diversify tech tools in order to give my online learners multiple ways of interacting with the content. I was introduced to industry standards for designing online courses through an organization called Quality Matters.

All of these “tools” have an important role in creating a top-notch online course, but there is one in particular that’s above all the others: web-conferencing. It’s this application that puts living, breathing, learning people at the center of the process.

Web-conferencing is a game-changer in many fields, but especially in education. I can send a link to anyone in the world and meet that person, or group, online in less than a minute. The participants see and hear me, and the environment is extremely interactive. I am able to post content, play music, act out a skit, write on the screen, share my desktop, transfer content in document form, or poll a large number of people very quickly.

I once took a class of seventh graders on a virtual field trip to Manhattan: there is a webcam in the Statue of Liberty torch. Within seconds students were sharing their impressions and asking questions in both verbal (audio) and written (chat) form. They were a community of learners.

So what does it all mean? If you have expertise in any area, you should be teaching it online. Just think: there’s almost no overhead and the markets are enormous. Not technologically savvy? That’s OK too because most of the programs you will use are so user-friendly that just about anyone can pick them up. Need a little nudge? There’s a solution for that too: Marie Forleo, Jocko Willink and many others offer all sorts of free motivational and business insights.

I’m not an expert, but I keep learning. I went into teaching because I thought I could help people learn. Now I do it from home, on my own terms. I’m not beholden to state standards or a school district telling me how and when I should assess. I make decisions about how to teach based on my clients’ needs. And sometimes those needs have easy solutions. Extra practice might be in the form of a fun quiz or a set of digital flashcards. Sometimes it’s just a conversation. It is amazing how quickly you can come up with an interesting college essay topic just by chatting with a teen.

When I saw the 2017 Bloomberg list of “The 50 Most Promising Startups You’ve Never Heard Of,” I wasn’t surprised to see “Digitization of Education” on the list. But don’t let the name fool you: people are still very much at the heart of online learning, or at least they should be.                                                                                         -Alisa