Train the Trainer: Critical Thinking in the Wine Classroom

One of my rallying cries in wine education and ALL education for that matter, is to teach our student skills far, far beyond the basic memorization of facts.  I’ve spoken at many a conference on this matter, and have dedicated many of my posts on this blog to the subject.  It’s all about teaching to the “higher order thinking skills” known as (I’m not making this up) “HOTS” rather than just teaching to knowledge or memorization, known as “lower order thinking skills” or “LOTS”.

One of the best ways to teach to the “HOTS” is to guide your students to use the information rather than just remember it.  For instance, in my red wine class for beginners, I hope that my students will not just memorize the names of the red wines and the vocabulary words we discussed, but be able to use the information in some meaningful way, such as:

  • Describe what tannin is, and discuss how it adds to the overall character of a wine.
  • Discuss acidity in red wines and how it compares to acidity in white wine.
  • Describe a wine’s method of production and how it lead to some certain character of the wine…

What we are doing here is teaching critical thinking skills. Critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of teaching used in Ancient Greece, and in the East, to the Buddhist Kalama Sutta. It is a part of the formal education process, increasingly significant as students progress through the higher grades, and should be the main concern in college and graduate-level teaching.  Obviously, critical thinking is an important part of just about every profession. 

According to Wikipedia, “There is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.”  Thank you, Wiki..very well said.  Crtical thinking is indeed one of those concepts, like “Politics” or “The Economy” that everyone understands but is hard pressed to actually define.  So here goes, my contribution to the debate…my definition of critical thinking:  The process of actively using new information by application, analysis, or evaluation. I tried to keep it simple.

Here is a list of my favorite techniques for adding critical thinking to the wine classroom:

  • Compare and contrast wines (or regions, or winemakers) by style.
  • Group wines into categories and explain why and how you chose the categories.
  • List wines in order (lightest to fullest, simplest to most complex).
  • Support an opinion with evidence. For instance, this wine is complex because…
  • Discuss whether or not a certain wine appeals to you, and tell us why/why not.
  • Describe a certain aspect of a wine (tannin, alcohol, residual sugar) and discuss how it relates to the other elements of flavor.
  • Predict how a wine will interact with a certain food.

And to make it easy, you can use what I call a “Bubbly Professor Brain Crank”.  I like to call this one “The Instant Critical Thinking Tool”: 

This wine is ____________  because ______________.

I like to use this sentence for class discussions, and it has a tendency to show up on my final exams.  I love it because it appears simple and un-intimidating, and yet you must use critical thinking to answer the question.  It’s also perfect for discussion because there are an infinite number of correct answers.  Students like that feature for test questions as well.

Here’s a sample…just how would you answer this question?

This Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 is ___________ because ________________.  

Made you think!  

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

14 Responses to Train the Trainer: Critical Thinking in the Wine Classroom

  1. John Evans says:

    I think you are going a bit over the top in seriousness. You are obviously American and obviously your students are requiring the serious you protray in your wine courses. I have been teaching wine courses in the U.K for over 20 yeaars. Previously being a buyer for a large pub and restaurant company in the U.K.

    When my classes were first asked and this was 5 different classes per week, as to whether they preferred the WSET certificate training or whether they preferred to learn at their own pace. All preferred the own pace method.

    I am not saying my method is better but perhaps mine would not work with your clients and yours with mine. I welcome comments on different aspects of learning.
    John Evans
    Vintage Wine Tours

    • bubblyprof says:

      Hi John – Thanks for your comment. Before you attack my teaching style as “over the top in seriousness”, perhaps you could take a bit of time to check out my profile and my blog in general; then you would realize that I teach wine courses at the University level and blog about research and topics in post-secondary education. This is my area of specialty as I have served as a full-time faculty member and educational administrator in college-level culinary arts/wine programs for the past 20 years. I invite you to check out my many posts on faculty development, online teaching, final exams, and instructional design, all told from the point of view of a culinary/wine educator.

      I agree that there are many different teaching styles appropriate to many different situations; for instance, if I were teaching an introductory tasting class in a wine bar I would not worry about critical thinking skills, however, that is not my role. You mention “clients” in your comment, so I assume you are a wine educator-for-hire, and I am sure that you know how to modify your classes based on your individual clients and their diverse needs. I generally teach college students,in addition to conducting faculty development courses, and my blog posts portray my teaching ideas and philosphies for a this demographic. My point of view may or may not have any overlap at all with the clients you are called on to teach.

      Good luck with your classes; it’s a broad industry and there’s room for lots of points of view.

    • ruthieloveswine says:

      Hi John – I find your comment that your students voted and preferred the self-paced version of training quite telling. I find that as a teacher I am quite challenged to compete with the self-paced, on-line, iPad-iPod, kindle and whatever versions of training that are out there. To be successful, I know I need to be more engaging, more fun, more informative, and a better use of my students’ time than whatever gadget they are packing. Perhaps this point of view would help you as well.


  2. Susan B. says:

    Anyone who says Miss Jane is over the top in ”seriousness” has never seen her teach. She is hysterical and will have you laughing until you cry. But you will still learn a lot!! Perhaps that’s the beauty of her teaching methods – serious education in a comedic atmosphere.

    • I have read Miss Jane’s blogs and articles, I have to say I wished there were more of her in the world of teaching, no matter what topic. My I also suggest a young man … John Boyer … teaching history and geography of wine at Virginia Tech. Phenomenal !!! cheers to all

  3. Jim L. says:

    Even the “HOTS” are kind of funny.

  4. Emily S. says:

    I am a student of Miss Jane’s and agree that she is hysterical! So much so that when the class is rolicking and laughing too hard, she brings us back in line by having us all recite her battle cry: “Serious! Wine! Education!”. I’m laughing just thinking about it. Love you, Miss Jane!

  5. Awesome teaching tip, Miss Jane!!! Watch for my Certified Beverage Educator Site to come out soon with lots more teaching tools and tips.

  6. Kathy J. says:

    I was just going to echo what Susan B. said.

  7. Pingback: What is “Sticky Teaching”? « The Bubbly Professor

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