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: There’s More to Class than just the Glass

There’s More to Class than Just the Glass

As a full-time wine educator, I have found myself teaching classes and leading wine tastings in some unusual spots.  Many of my classes are held in my super-comfy, perfectly designed, high-tech enhanced wine lab college classroom.  This setting is as conducive to learning as a setting can be. Wine and food conferences, and in my case mostly wine and food education conferences are also good situations for teaching and learning…at least people are sitting down, facing the speaker, and we can assume the audience wants to listen and learn.

However, part of a wine educator’s life is spent on the road, and I have also taught classes in winery barrel rooms, in restaurants during the dinner rush, and at wine bars in the midst of happy hour.  Add to the list the seminars I have led outdoors at wine festivals, trade tastings, womens’ retreats and rock concerts. (You will note I did not include private homes…Miss Jane does not do private homes.)

Let’s face it:  it can be hard to engage and actually teach students about wine when they are outside, at a rock concert, or even at a wine bar; and my educational philosophy and practice is all about engagement.  I want my students to be not just at attention but fully engaged.  Attention is great – you need to have a full repertoire of attention grabbers.  Once you have gotten your audience’s attention they should be listening, observant, and interested in what you are about to present.  Attention is valuable but it only lasts for a few minutes until minds start to wander.

Engagement, on the other hand, goes deeper than attention.  When your class is fully engaged, they are physically energized, emotionally connected, and mentally focused on the subject at hand.  Engagement in the material at hand should be one of the main goals of instruction, and “points of engagement” should be pre-scripted into your lesson plan just as carefully as your course objectives and class material.

Obviously, a wine class has a few built-in advantages when it comes to student engagement.  First of all, it’s about wine (a fascinating subject and one with broad appeal.)  Secondly, we usually have a built-in activity (also very appealing) when we lead a tasting.

The challenge for me, I have found, in leading a tasting class is not in just keeping the audience engaged, but keeping them focused on learning and not merely engaged in the tasting itself – in other words, enjoying the wine more than the class.  As we all know, this type of “tasting” can devolve into “drinking” quickly if not managed.

I am sure that we have all found that during an instructor-led tasting, students tend to get excited and chatty.  Left unmonitored, it gets louder and louder – which is great if you are at a party, or maybe if you are leading one of those tastings at a wine bar or rock concert.  However, if you want to balance fun with serious learning, this can be a challenge.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own system for walking this fine line.  When leading a tasting activity,  I generally let the students taste and talk amongst themselves for a few minutes – after all, talking is the ultimate engagement – and then try bring them gently back to attention for further instruction. To do this effectively, you need an abrupt attention grabber.  Most teachers whistle or scream or bang a spoon on a glass. There’s nothing really wrong with this technique -it certainly does work – but it can also leave students unfocused, annoyed, or even angry.  (Note:  nothing halts learning quicker than anger.)

What I do to avoid this backlash is this:  I introduce the wine, tell the class I am going to give them five minutes to taste and talk amongst themselves and will then bring them back to attention for group discussion and further instructor-led content.  Then I play some background music appropriate to the theme and setting.  When the time for tasting and talking is over and I want to turn their attention back to my presentation, I turn up the volume briefly and then turn it off.  Works everytime, and no one shoots me a dirty look or complains!

Here’s my advice to you:  try to develop a your own signature style of focusing the class after a tasting break or other group activity.  You might use a call and response, flick the lights, have everyone stand up, or use music like I do.  In a pinch, you can always bang a spoon on a glass.