Wine Class Choreography

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Wine class choreography…it has an exciting ring to it, doesn’t it?  I hope so, because I hardly expected you to click on an article titled “Instructional Design.”  However, they really mean the same thing; and it is something that is really lacking in wine education today.

So just what is instructional design?  Think of it this way:  You have a great dancer who knows lots of steps and just can’t wait to show them off…and you have some great music.  What else do you need to do before you can put on a great dance show?  You need to plan what you are going to first, then next, how you will trasition from one style of dance to another, and how to tie it all up at the end.  You need choreography!

Planning a class is a lot like planning a show.  First, you need a concept and learning objectives, and then you fill in the content.  When this is done you have the dancer, all those steps he can’t wait to break out, and the music; but you don’t yet have a plan.  The biggest challenge is still ahead of you.

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How are you going to present the material?  How are you going to make sure that your audience can follow along with what you are saying?  How can you help them understand, remember, and remain engaged with the material?  Just exactly how are you going to do to fill those 120 minutes with 60 eyes looking straight at you?

What you need is some wine class choreography – in other words, you need some Instructional Design.  Step by step, beat by beat, you need to decide in advance what will be done.  Instructional Design is the process of taking your bundle of eager information and transforming it into a learning experience that helps your students make sense of, remember, and engage with the new information they  will receive.

There are a lot of concepts and theories about Instructional Design, and with the advent of online education the term takes on a whole new dimension.  But, as is often true, the strongest theories stand the test of time.  One of the best expressions of instructional design is Robert Gagné’s “Nine Steps of Instruction” that has been around since 1985.

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In this version of the “Nine Steps of Instructional Design,” I present my own ideas about instructional design, but all of this is firmly rooted in (and hopefully pays homage to) the “Nine Steps” of Gagné’s original work.

Step 1 – Focus, Focus, Focus! In the words of Gagné, gain their attention! Present a problem or a new situation. Use an “interest device” that grabs the learner’s attention. The important point in wine education is to focus the learners. You can use such devices as storytelling, demo, present a problem to be solved, doing something the wrong way, asking a question, or taking an “audience poll.”  The point is, do something to focus the class!

Step 2 – What’s in it for me?  Tell them how they will benefit from your class.  In academic words, “inform the learner of the objective”. Keep their attention by telling them how they will benefit from what they are about to learn.  Everyone likes to know “What’s in it for me?”It also gives your students a goal on which to focus for the rest of the class.

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Step 3. Where does this fit in to my life? It’s very important to put your topic in the context of your learner’s life.  Find some common ground or prior knowledge relevant to the current lesson.  This simple step provides a framework for learning and remembering the new information about to be received.

Step 4. Tell me what I need to know! This seemingly simple step needs to be choreographed very carefully.  It’s not just what you present but how you present it.  Be sure to organize your information to avoid cognitive overload. Blend the information to aid in information recall. This is a huge subject and one that is often ignored by trainers and teachers.

Step 5. How do I learn this? Provide guidance for learning.This is not the presentation of content, but is rather your guidance and instructions on how to learn the new material. If this step is well done, your students will enjoy your class and learn more.  Students that are guided are less likely to lose time , become frustrated or just “tune out”.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice!  Make sure the students do something with their new skills or information. With tasting classes this is easy, but make sure you guide them to a specific goal in their tasting.  With knowledge-based classes you need to get a little more creative in your use of or class activities – just make sure you have one, otherwise all you have done is “dumped” new information in the general direction of your students.  (Oh, not good…)

Step 7 – Am I doing it right? Do I get it?  Provide feedback. This can be casual, individual, or with the group as a whole, but everyone needs to know if they are on the right track. To be effective, feedback needs to be specific, not, “you are doing a good job” Tell them “why” they are doing a good job,

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Step 8 – How did we do? Assess performance. Test to determine if the lesson has been learned. This can be a quiz, an activity, or a or class discussion.

Step 9 – How can I use this? – The final steps in your class should be designed to enhance the retention and transfer of the new knowledge. Discuss how this new information can be used, provide opportuniites for additional practice, or review the lesson.  Somehow, some way, your student’s life should be changed by their new knowledge.  Even if it just means they are going to buy a better brand of Chardonnay.

Every class does not have to include all nine steps, but keeping these steps in mind before you begin a class will go a long way to improving your teaching. Remember that good teaching goes way, way beyond the imparting of information.  Unfocused teaching  is more like an information dump.  Don’t be a dumper—use instructional design! 

Reference/for further learning:

Gagné, Robert. The Conditions of Learning and the Theory of Instruction (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985.

What is “Sticky Teaching”?

 Just what is Sticky Teaching???

Over the years, I’ve written dozens of articles and essays on the subject of “Sticky Teaching.”  I’ve given hundreds of workshops called “Sticky Teaching.”  I have read articles on the subject written by other people, and attended their Sticky Teaching workshops as well.  One of the more memorable had the attendees (my befuddled self included) sitting in circles and reciting the ten Grand Crus of Beaujolais while slapping our legs and snapping our fingers.  Perhaps that session should have been called “Snappy Teaching.”

I was reflecting on this “sticky teaching history” earlier this morning as I sat down at my computer to design yet another handout for yet another workshop on “Sticky Teaching.”  In this light, I thought it might be a good idea to come up with a new and improved definition of just what is meant by “Sticky Teaching”.  Keep in mind that this is my personal definition, reflecting my teaching style, and by that I mean that any other educator in the world is allowed to have their own definition of “sticky teaching” and I will respect it!

Here it is, the 2012 definition of Sticky Teaching, Bubbly Professor style:  Sticky Teaching is teaching that is engaging, understood, and memorable.

It’s simple:  in order to provide teaching that sticks, first, we need to teach in a manner that not only grabs the attention of but also nurtures the engagement of the audience over the long haul – the entire course of the class and beyond. Second, we need to make sure our lesson is simplified and organized in such a way so that the main points of the lesson are easy to comprehend.  While the  A+++ students may easily grasp the whole lesson including the details, we need to ensure that every student can and will understand the “gist”. Last but not least, we need to somehow present the topic so that it breaks through the limitation of short-term memory and becomes permanently embedded in long-term memory.     

When stated this way, the goal of sticky teaching sounds like it may take a lifetime to achieve, and it probably will. Teaching is a profession that lends itself to constant improvement.  Even the best teachers I know are always looking for ways to improve their teaching. Most likely, that is why they are the best teachers I know.

Here are a few examples of the techniques of sticky teaching: 

 Sticky Teaching is Engaging:

  • Use Dramatic Tension (keep them wondering “what happened next”)
  • Create a Knowledge Gap (pique curiosity by setting up a “mystery”)
  • Use concept testing (Have students make a prediction and then prove/disprove)
  • Heed the ten-minute rule (Change the locus of attention every ten minutes)
  • Challenge the audience (Make critical thinking part of every class) 
  • Make it experiential (Replace abstract theories with concrete experiences)

Sticky Teaching is Understood:

  • Identify your core message (Keep it easy to understand)
  • Use statistics in understandable form (use the human scale principle)
  • Provide Cognitive Guidance (point out what’s important to know)
  • Use the power of Schema (put things in context)

Sticky Teaching is Memorable:

  • Anchor information (tie new topics to information the student already knows)
  • Use ECS (Emotionally Competent Stimuli)
  • Use the narrative approach (Tell Stories)
  • Use the PSE (pictorial superiority effect)
  • Utilize dual coding (sync the visual and the verbal channel)

Obviously, some of these teaching techniques overlap categories. For instance, telling stories is a great way to be engaging, make your message understood and is memorable as well.  Story telling is a sticky teaching trifecta! However, in homage to what is probably the most important rule of sticky teaching – identify your core message – I did my best to create three categories and organize the topics within them (demonstrating another principle of sticky teaching, providing cognitive guidance.)

To wrap it all up: Sticky Teaching is teaching that is engaging, understood and memorable.

 

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 1990 is ___________ because ________________.  

Made you think!  

 

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

Lessons in Teaching: Learned at TexSom

I am lucky enough to be attending the Texas Sommelier (“TexSom”) Conference this weekend at the lovely Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas, Texas.  Being an educator and not a sommelier, I know that I attend conferences of this sort in a much different mind set than the typical attendee, but there is a plenty of valuable information and experience to be gleaned by sitting in the audience and watching someone else teach.  As a matter of fact, it’s my favorite type of vacation; all you fellow teachers out there will relate to the feeling of relief you get when someone else is on the teaching “hot seat” and you can lean back and watch.

So, it is with much gratitude for the conference leaders and presenters that I share with you a few great teaching lessons learned and reinforced by the seminars I’ve seen at TexSom this year!

Lesson in Teaching:  Tell a Story!

The Tomb of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Good wine story!

The first session presented on Sunday, led by Wayne Belding and Brett Zimmerman, both Master Sommeliers, was all about Bordeaux.  The presenters led us through the story of the history of Bordeaux, all the way back to the middle ages and the marriage of Henry Plantagenet to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  This marriage made the French region of Aquitaine an English terriority, which opened the wines of the Bordeaux region to the English market and eventually to the world stage.

The name Aquitaine itself means “the place of much water” and describes not only the main rivers of the area but then-marshly lands around the Medoc. Another fasciniating part of the story of the history of Bordeaux takes place in the seventeenth century, when English demand for the wines of Bordeaux increased to the point that Dutch traders began to drain the marshlands around the  Medoc and increase the land available to vineyards. This caused the vineyard area in Bordeaux to expand so much that no one could really tell what area their wine was from, which in turned led to the first delination of the vineyards of Bordeaux.  This classification was completed in 1725, with the collection of districts being known as the Vignoble de Bordeaux.  At this time, individual bottles began to be labeled with with both the region and the specific area from which they originated.  I was fascinated to learn this ancient history of Bordeaux and happy to add some more “tales of the vine” to my arsenal of teaching tools.

Why is storytelling a good lesson in teaching?  It is a proven fact that the use of storytelling – called “the narrative approach” in teaching lingo – is one of the most effective ways to add interest and engagement to a presentation.  Storytelling works in just about any educational platform from lecture to discussion to on-line, and can help you reach your audience on both an intellectual and emotional level.  A well-placed story can make theories or abstract ideas concrete and accessible, can spark interest in new material, and can help students memorize facts.

Lesson in Teaching:  Compare and Contrast 

Oregon Pinot: Did you prefer the Hippie or the Cowboy?

The last session I was able to attend on Sunday was all about Oregon Pinot Noir.  Presented by Fred Dame and Nate Ready, both Master Sommeliers, the session was subtitled “The Cowboy and The Hippie.”  Fred and Nate both presented some fabulously delicious Pinot Noirs, which would have made the session good enough, but what made the session even more interesting was the dichotomy in the way they both chose and presented their wines.  Fred represented the “Cowboy” approach and chose wines made in a “get ‘er done” style that produced a wine that was pure Pinot Noir – juicy, fruity, in some cases jammy – and showing lots of spice and floral aromas.  Nate represented the “Hippie” approach and chose wines that were done in a more “touch-feely” (some would say organic-biodynamic-light of the moon) style with lots of earthiness and subtlety.  The wines were presented two by two – with one wine is each set representing the hippie approach and one wine representing the cowboy style.  Presenting the wines this way enabled the audience to not just taste the wines but really think about them in terms of style; which by the way is the “language” most of our customers think in.

Interestingly enough, my favorite wine of the flight was the 2010 Penner-Ash “Dussin Vineyard” – pure Cowboy.

Why is “compare and contrast” a good lesson in teaching? One of the ultimate goals for any teacher is to guide his or her students to not just “know” (or worse yet, “memorize”) new information but to use that information in a meaningful context.  In this way we are teaching critical thinking skills and such teaching is considered a “higher level” teaching skill, as opposed to just teaching a page full of facts. One excellent technique to involve the use of critical thinking skills in a class is to have students compare and contrast items or ideas.  By ending the Oregon Pinot Noir sesion by asking the audience “which wines did you prefer, the cowboy or the hippie” the speakers were forcing us (in the nicest possible way) to use critical thinking.  

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

You’re a Wine Educator…How do I get your Job?

I get asked all the time…“How do I get your job”? Well, I really want to answer by saying something like, “Study for twenty years, write a book, learn instructional design…”  But I’ve long since learned that’s not the answer people are looking for.

And it’s a good question, and since so many of you asked, here’s my real answer:

  • Know your stuff.  Enough said.
  • Spend just as much time studying and mastering presentation techniques, public speaking skills, and audience management as you do studying wine.  As a matter of fact, spend more time studying them.  Knowledge is everywhere in our society…every student in your audience has all the information you are going to spill forth for them readily available on the little e-gadget they have in their pocket.  They don’t need you to provide them with information…they need you to provide them with a way to understand, remember, and be engaged with the information.
  • Develop your own style of teaching and work at perfecting it.  Don’t beg or borrow other people’s teaching materials…look inward and produce your own.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had other educators e-mail me asking if they can have my power point presentation.  My only thought is “Why would you want to use my materials”? Can you really speak from the heart using someone else’s presentation?  Trust me, you will do a much better job at presenting using materials that are your own.
  • Create opportunities to engage your class.  People who don’t undestand how to engage an audience think that it only has to do with energy or activity.  Points of engagement should be pre-planned, practiced, and executed at regular intervals in any class.
  • Develop a skill or gimmick for remembering and using people’s names.  Draw yourself a room diagram with people’s names on it, write short descriptors (for your eyes only) of individuals on your class list or roster, or have people wear name tags.  The sound of one’s own name is the most engaging thing known to humankind.  If you have a large group, make sure you know and use the names of everyone in the front row.
  • Become an expert at A/V.  If you are going to be using projectors or microphones, be able to hook them up, break them down, turn them on and trouble shoot.  Nothing will throw you off your game faster than having to leave your area to go find a techie.
  • Arrive at your location an hour early.  No excuses.  Get set up, find your wines, figure out who is going to be in your audience, relax, and be ready to greet everyone at the door as they enter.  Introduce yourself to every attendee (or at least the first 25 if you have a big group).  Make small talk with your students in the time you have before class begins, and by the time you start you’ve already made friends.
  • If you are going to use Power Point, Keynote, Flip Charts or slides, study up on the latest research and advice concerning their use. One of the quickest ways I can detect an amateur is the use of wordy, detailed, or complicated visuals.  Same goes for handouts.
  • Don’t make excuses. If you are a good teacher, you can teach your subject with or without a projector, in a wine bar or a lecture hall, with the exact wines you ordered or with the wines they delivered by mistake.
  • To get started; give one class for free at a wine bar, winery, or tasting society.  After that, you should be able to start to charge for classes.  If not, perhaps you need to practice some more.  Don’t go on too long giving it away…there are far too many “wanna be” wine educators out there who are willing to charge nothing for their services.  If you are providing a valuable service, you deserve to be paid.
  • If attendees are answering questions or describing wines, find what’s right in every contribution.  No one should ever be embarassed or belittled for speaking up in class. Appreciate everyone’s attempts to answer your question or participate in your class even if they are technically “not correct”.
  • Don’t get drunk in public.  Ever.  Especially not at your own events.  As a matter of fact, as long as you have the floor, the microphone or the name on the marquee, you should only take a sip or two of any wine that you are presenting; that’s all you need. (Ok, after the class is over go ahead and have a glass of wine to unwind while chatting up your students.  But JUST ONE.  End of rant.)
  • Don’t quit your day job.  Very few people make a living teaching wine classes. However, there’s nothing wrong with working the floor of a retail wine shop, pouring wine  samples in a grocery store, or waiting tables to to make ends meet.  While working at a retail store might not be your dream job, a job at a retail store (or restaurant or grocery store) just might lead to many opportunities to teach if you are willing to “make it happen”.

And here’s my best advice:  Always keep growing.  Develop new teaching skills and new teaching materials constantly.  Appreciate the people, the surroundings, the wine, and the opportunity to share your passion.  Have fun, and if you can snag a full-time job with benefits that has anything to do with wine….take it.

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

Some Thoughts on Learning Styles

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again…there are three basic learning styles, and everybody has one that they prefer.  Visual learners learn best by seeing information (graphs, maps, and pictures) , auditory learners learn best by hearing (speeches, lectures, recordings) and kinesthetic learners learn by doing (or touching, or manipulating materials).  You’ve probably taken a cute little test or quiz to determine your preferred learning style, and if you are a teacher you’ve been told to vary your lesson plans and teach to all three learning styles.

Before we try to credit or discredit this theory, let’s look at some known facts about cognition and memory.  First, people do differ in their visual, auditory, and kniesthetic memory abilities.  Certain people are better able to remember visual memory applications.  If ask you to visualize a pine tree, the Empire State Building, or the Mona Lisa; I am asking you to use your visual memory.  If I ask you to listen to three different recordings and  identify which one is Barak Obama’s voice, I am asking you to draw upon your powers of auditory memory. If I ask you to show me how to swing a baseball bat you would utilize your kinesthetic memory.  As I sure you realized at a very young age, certain people are just plain better at recalling visual images and certain people have excellent auditory acuity.  Of course, to the chagrin of many of us, some people are just great at remembering and re-enacting the perfect baseball bat swing, and some of us never seem to master it. 

Here’s one other thing we need to consider:  not all of our memories are mere sights, sounds, or movements.  Most of what we “know” is wrapped around meaning.  In other words, we remember things based on what they mean to us.  If a friend tells you a funny story about a co-worker who called in sick and three hours later was seen on TV, cheering on the home team at the noontime baseball game, you would remember the meaning of the story. 

I would remember the meaning of this story as “Somebody lied, somebody got caught, with technology these days you can’t get away with much, I’m so glad it wasn’t me, but it’s pretty funny that it was her!”  Most people would probably think the same thing about the story, or perhaps the “meaning” of the story would vary depending on whether or not you were friend or foe to the person involved.

I would also remember the visual elements of the story, such as the way my friend looked as she was telling it to me, or my visualization of what the TV broadcast would have looked like.  I would also remember the auditory elements such as what my friend’s voice sounded like as she told me the story.  I would also remember the kinesthetics of the moment, such as whether we were walking, sitting, or standing.  But the most important part of the story, the meaning, has a life of its own.

grapesThis part of the “learning styles” theory makes sense:  some people are better at certain types of memory than others. But the main, predictive element of the theory is that students will understand and retain information better (learn better) when the delivery of new material matches their cognitive style.  Let’s say we are teaching a class of 30 adults.  We’re giving a basic introduction to wine production.  We have a list of 30 vocabulary words we want the students to grasp. (Brix, Must, Crushing, Pressing,  Pomace, Racking, Fining, Acidification, Chaptalization, Malolactic Fermentation, Cap Management, Autovinification. Malic Acid, Lactic Acid, pH, Tannin, Sterile Filtration, Aging, Maturing, Blending, Carbonic Maceration….you get the picture!)

Let’s say we divided the vocabulary words into three lists of ten words each. For one list, we presented the information verbally…we read the vocabulary words and recite the definitions several times.  For another list, we present the information visually…we write the words and definitions on the board (or use power point slides).  For the third list, we somehow have our students act it out or use gestures to accompany definitions. If the predictive part of the “learning theory” holds true, the “visual learners” in the group would remember more of the words written on the board and the “auditory learners” would remember more of the vocabulary words that were recited.

Here’s where the theory takes a dive:  dozens of studies have been conducted along these general lines, and the theory is NOT supported.  Using a student’s preferred cognitive modality does NOT give that student an edge in learning new material.

How can that be?  Because what is being taught – the new material we want the students to grasp – is not necessarily visual, auditory, or kinesthetic information…it’s meaning.  If we wanted students to recall visual information, for instance, the way the grapes should look like when they are ripe, presenting that information visually is the only way to go.  Use an actual bunch of grapes or a good picture.  Just imaging trying to describe what something should look like using just your words. “Um…they’re purple, but sometimes kind of blue, and they are grouped together in a bunch with a stem, like a bunch of grapes at the grocery store, only smaller.  And tighter. And bluer. Sort of.”  It sounds funny to even try.

The same holds true for auditory information.  It must be transmitted via sound (I know it sounds a little goofy when stated like that – sorry)! If we wanted students to know how the batch of fermenting must should sound, an audible recording (or the real thing) is the only possible way to impart that information. Imagine trying to describe it using words.  “Oh you know, it should kind of sound like soda being poured into a glass, but then it stops everyone once in a while and goes sh-h-h-h-h-w-o-o-o-f.” Same with trying to teach a group of people what it feels like to crush grapes with your feet.  You just can’t tell them…you’d better go get a bus tub, some grapes, and tell everyone to wear slip-off shoes.

Remember what we are trying to teach here with our list of 30 vocabulary words…it’s not visual, auditory, or kinesthestic information only; it’s meaning. Presenting information via the visual channel has not been proven to give a “visual learner” any advantage in learning anything besides visual representations.  The same holds true for auditory and kinesthetic “learners”.  An auditory learner might very easily remember the sound of your voice while you were reciting the vocabulary words (and can probably imitate you quite well behind your back), but “the sound of the teacher’s voice” is most likely not one of your leraning objectives.

So if the “learning styles” theory is really quite wrong, why does it seem so right?  This theory is ultra- well entrenched in the literature and philosophy of education.   A quick google search of “learning styles” will deliver hundreds of pages on learning styles from the websites of well-respected universities.  A page with the VARK questionnaire on “What’s Your Learning Style?” tells me that over 25,000 people have taken their quiz this month.  I’ve been to several wine-and-food related educational conferences where a session on “learning styles” was offered. It’s almost one of those things that we just want to believe, or believe because everybody else believes, like “people believe 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear….” which, by the way has also never been proven. And, of course, we have to concede that a small portion of the theory is true.  The fact that people vary in their visual memory ability is obvious.  Some of my students can memorize that wine map of Italy after just one look.  Others have to study for weeks.  They same holds true for the auditory and the kinesthetic.  But we can’t make the mistake of a false correlation between the natural ability of visual memory to an overall superiority of using the visual channel for learning the meaning of things, or for that matter, the learning of anything is isn’t visual.

Finally, a lot of the evidence surrounding learning styles is guilty of what is known as “confirmation bias.”  Once we believe something, we interpret ambiguous situations as being consistent with what we believe.  Suppose, for instance, that you discover that your students score better on tests when you provide them with a handout after your lecture.  You assume that while your lecture might be reaching the auditory learners, the handout reaches the visual learners so that class as a whole performs better.  You feel good about your class and your ability to teach to “the different learning styles.”  What actually happened, however, was more likely the fact that some of your students used the handouts to read the material and study after class, thus exposing themsleves to a repetition of the material.  Using a lecture and a handout is just a better way of teaching than relying on a lecture alone.

Even better, of course, is the student who actually listens to your lecture, reads the book, studies the handout and engages in some discussion or other use of the information. That’s a good way of teaching meaning, and if your classes motivate the students to do just that, you’ve done a good job teaching – to any learning ability and any learning style.

If you’d like more information on learning styles, you can see my previous post on learning styles:https://bubblyprofessor.com/2012/01/28/train-the-trainer-are-you-a-visual-or-a-verbal-learner/

I also highly recommend Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School?   (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009). It has a wonderful chapter called “How Should I Adjust My Teaching for Different Types of Learners?” that discusses  and debunks the three “learning styles” as well as many other theories of “multiple intelligences”. 

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

Week One, Day One: The Introduction to Wine Class

Next week starts a brand new semester and among the classes I’ll be teaching this block is my sentimental favorite – The Introduction to Wine Class.  I offer Professional Wine Studies, Wines and the Culinary Arts, and Wine and Food Pairing as well as semester-long looks at both Old World Wines and New World Wines, but the introductory class remains my favorite.

It’s great to see wine newbies go from “What is Wine” to “The Legend of Sassicaia” in just over 12 weeks.  I always like to start Week One/Day One simply enough with “Wine, Defined.”  I am sure that every wine educator out there has their preferred version of the answer to the question, “what is wine”?   My is quite simply, “Wine is a beverage produced by the fermentation of fruit, mainly grapes”.  Of course this answer leads to many questions and further disucssions…what is fermentation, why grapes, and “can you make wine from Welch’s Grape Juice”?  Of course, the answer is yes…it just won’t taste very good!

And it never fails, within the first ten minutes of class someone will mention the following subjects:  Boone’s Farm, Four Loko, Sangria, Hellow Kitty Wines, Prison Wine, Mad Dog 20/20, Saké, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot, Thunderbird, Mimosas, Cristal, and Ace of Spades.  Fellow wine educators, I bet you have your own list, I would love to hear about what your students ask on day one!

And somehow, we get through it all.  I like to have a basic “learn how to taste” session on Week One/Day One as well, both to get the class off to an engaging start and also to lay the ground work for the more detailed, directed tastings we will have as the class progresses.

My introduction to sensory evaluation class is admittedly quite technical.  I tell the students what the wines are, but I ask them not to focus on that one particular wine but rather to use the wine at hand to learn about the sensory evaluation of  “every wine or any wine.” 

I use just three wines; an unoaked, crisp Chardonnay (A Macon-Villages is ideal), followed by a simple yet sweet white wine (I’ve been using Flat Creek Estate Muscato D’Arancia), and finish with Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The basics of sensory evaluation class that I teach on Week One/Day One does not follow the basic steps of wine tasting.  We will get to all the expected steps (sight, swirl, sniff, snort, whatever…) in the course of the session, but not exactly in that order.  I tell the students that we are going to do approach the wines in the proper order (dry before sweet, white before red, light before heavy) and that we will let each wine “reveal” its secrets to us – in other words, each wine has something special to teach us. I choose my flight of three to include a wine that perfectly shows acidity, one that has sweetness, one with bitterness and tannin, and make sure that within the set of three, each of the major aroma families is there in an easy-to-recognize manner.  I want the class to be chock-full of “a-ha moments.”

Then I launch right in, teaching what I call “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor.”  The nine elements are: Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness, Tannin, Umami, Aroma, Body, Balance, and Alcohol.  I told you it was technical!  It does start off quite scientific, with discussions of pH, IBU’s, R.S. and ABV, but by the time we add aroma to the mix I make sure the step off the path of “paralysis by analysis” and let the students just relax and enjoy the flavor of the wine.  And somehow, it all comes together in the end.

If you’d like a copy of my handout about “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor” just send me an email request to”  missjane@prodigy.net .

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