Train the Trainer: Mirror, Mirror

Several weeks ago, as I was reviewing about 5,000 end-of-the-semester course evaluations reflecting the work of 25 full-time instructors (plus a slew of adjuncts), I noticed a trend.  Oh sure, there were the usual comments about grading policies and reading assignments, but I also noticed that a large number of the surveys mentioned the instructor’s enthusiasm.  It was no big surprise that the positive evaluations mentioned the instructor’s obvious love of the subject matter and their enthusiasm in class.  This I have seen before.  However, I noticed an overwhelming amount of the less-than-perfect evaluations had statements such as “the teacher just didn’t have any passion” or “instructor showed no enthusiasm for the class or the material.” Ouch.

As educators, we are always looking for that spark that will engage our students, and we’re always told to “be enthusiastic.” I’ve told myself and my faculty that very thing a thousand times.  But reading those surveys brought out the Academic in me and I wanted to know “why”.  Why is it that gusto of the teacher has such an impact on the student in terms of both engagement and learning?  The answer, it seems, is something called “Mirror Neurons.”

Mirror Neurons are a recent discovery, having been first identified in 1980 by an Italian Neuroscientist named Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti. Dr. Rizzolatti and his team discovered that in a monkey’s brain, the exact same neuron is fired when a monkey performs a specific act, such as grasping a peanut, as when the monkey observed a human perform the same act.   It seems that “monkey see, monkey do” might be the exact same thing, at least to the neurons in the monkey’s brain! 

This initial discovery, soon termed “mirror neurons,” led to research on human mirror neurons, and some fascinating implications for education.  The two facets of mirror neurons that I find the most interesting and relevant to adult education are:  (1) Mirror neurons allow us to feel what someone else is feeling, and (2) Mirror neurons allow us to learn through observation as well as action. 

Mirroring Emotions

We’ve all experienced the effect of mirror neurons on our emotional state; in fact, we experience it everyday.  You are walking down the street and somebody barely misses getting hit by a car – woah! Your heart starts racing, you recoil in sympathy, you actually feel the fear in your gut. Or you find yourself enjoying a nice movie, having a great time, but as soon as the leading lady gets her heart broken, you can’t stop crying! For decades, such responses puzzled neuroscientists. Now we know that on a certain level, watching something happen to someone else and having it happen to us fires up a reaction in the same part of the brain – right down to a single neuron. 

The implication for education is pretty strong; if the teacher is in a good mood, that good mood will rub off on the class. If the teacher is enthusiastic about the subject, your students’ mirror neurons will fire off a corresponding enthusiasm in their brains as well.  And we all know that enthusiasm, engagement, and attention all equal enhanced knowledge retention, so anything I can do to enthuse my class is a good start. I don’t know about you, but just knowing about mirror neurons makes me feel much more responsible for my mood in class; who knew we really could affect one another’s outlooks so directly?

Of course, as teachers we have all experienced the flip side of the mirror neurons in action:  one student in a foul mood can bring the whole class down, and quickly.  Thankfully, as the person standing in front of the room, you  can reign in or remove Debbie Downer from the back row before the negative classroom phenomenon that I have always called “the feeding frenzy” gets out of control. 

Mirroring Knowledge

One of the very cool “tricks of the trade” we have as educators is to tie new information to something the student already knows. This is known as “anchoring information” and involves finding an aspect of some a topic that might be familiar to the students– such as  the “Charlemagne” of “Corton-Charlemagne” – before introducing new information -such as the geography of Aloxe-Corton.  The familiar topic, already safely present in long-term memory, provides an existing framework that  helps working memory grasp onto and make sense of new information.

This technique is so profoundly successful that I have often wondered just how we aquire that first bit of new information about a topic.  If we have no knowledge to anchor to, what lights the spark that leads to the acquiring of original knowledge? Rote repitition?  I hope not.  Relevant visuals?  They only work some of the time.  The answer could lie in mirror neurons. 

It seems that new knowledge, including that which occurs in babies learning to make sense of the world and the ease with which young children acquire new languages, is the direct  result of the action of mirror neurons.  A baby watches the people around her and soon figures out how to move, and walk, and talk.  

It sounds amazing, but it just could be true that without the direct learning of new knowledge and skills that is afforded by mirror neurons, there would be no basis on which to build (“anchor”) new learning. 

Maximizing the Mirror

There’s one more fascinating implication for education:  the effect of mirror neurons is amplified with study.  This was proven at a 2003 study at the University College of London, led by Dr. Daniel Glaser, that tested mirror neurons at a dance demonstration. The test found that people who had studied ballet showed more mirror neuron activity during a ballet demonstration than those who had not.  It’s a fascinating conclusion, but do you think my students will do their textbook reading assignments if I tell them it will amplify their mirror neuron reaction during the next class? 

Perhaps I should just keep that to myself.

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

missjane@prodigy.net

Flip it Good!

The Flipped Classroom…we’ve all heard and read a great deal about it, and I have been enthusiastically using it in my Professional Wine Studies Class for about a year.  (In case this is the first time you’ve heard of flipping a classroom, you can read one of my original posts about it here.)

About a week ago, I wrapped up a semester of teaching in a mode that I deem “as flipped as humanly possible.”  I tried to take every possible opportunity to fill my classes with “ABL” (Anything But Lecture),  while making sure that the “transmission” of new knowledge occurred one way or another, whether inside or outside the classroom.  (In a true “flipped classroom”, the transmission of learning takes place outside the classroom.  This assumes our students do the reading or the watching of assigned videos.  I’m still easing my students into that idea.)

To achieve my “as flipped as possible” goal, I used in-class activities, discussions, and group projects daily.  Sometimes the activities worked out great, and sometimes I found myself tap-dancing to keep the class in order. 

Here’s a few things I learned during my semester of flipping dangerously:   

1.  Keep the groups small.  I found that for a many projects, 2 students is an ideal number.  It seems that with only two students in a group, no one can afford to be the “group slacker.”  Three people in a group also works well, but in groups of 4 or more you tend to have 1 or 2 people working diligently, and 1 or 2 people playing on their iPhones.

2.  As soon as the teams are arranged, have the teams choose a group leader who will be responsible for turning work in, presenting their work to the class or ensuring that the group gets credit for their assignment, in whatever form that is. 

3.  Always have “extra credit” or “further learning” sections of a project available for the one hot shot group or team that does a great job and finishes before everyone else.  If you don’t have extra activities for them, the hot shot group will not have anything left to do and may feel that class is a “waste of time.”

4.  Pre-script every class project or discussion with “Come Get Me” moments.  Design these so that after each segment of a class project, the students stop and discuss it with you before moving on.  Another way to keep the class on an even keel is to divide a group project into chunks that should take about 15 minutes to a half hour.  After every “chunk”, bring the class back together to share and discuss their findings.  

6.  Most important of all, remember that the time when your class is working in groups or otherwise on projects, you as the instructor are still “on stage” as much as when you are lecturing.  This is NOT your time to catch up on your email, read a book, or grade papers.  While you don’t want to “hover over them” and make everyone nervous, you also don’t want to disengage.  I’ve found the best thing for me to do while the students are working in groups is to sit down somewhere off to the side of the classroom and keep an eye on the groups, much as I do when proctoring a test. That way everyone knows where to find me, no one feels like they are “interrupting” me when they ask for help, and I can quickly respond to a group that wants to “flag me over”.

What do you think?  Do you have any “Flip it Good” advice?  We’d love to hear from you!

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

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 really understand 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 teaching online, show up on the webinar platform a half hour early and begin to engage with your students.
  • 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 in 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.  Steer them in the right direction if necessary, but keep in mind that no one should ever be embarrassed 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”.
  • Take a class on marketing (including social media) or engage a marketing/social media consultant.
  • This is not the sexy part, but still: Be meticulous about the legal constraints. Take the time to discuss liability insurance with a professional. You need to obtain and maintain some sort of certification (responsible service of alcohol) to limit your liability due to the mere presence of alcohol. You may need a liquor license, depending upon your location and the venue(s) you use. You’ll want to talk to a tax attorney or other professional about the best way to set up your business (sole proprietor, LLC, etc). Make sure you know where to draw the (legal) line between teaching about wine and providing (selling) wine. It’s important.
  • 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

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.

Finals Week in Wine Class

It’s Finals Week!

Final exam week in Miss Jane’s 12-week professional wine studies class has arrived!  To answer your question, NO…the wine final does not involve binge drinking, glasses clinking or happy hour. Like most college-level courses in hospitality management or culinary arts, we have both a practical and a written final exam.  Our written final exam is scheduled for this Friday; a 100 question multiple choice test followed by three essay questions.  

Please note that the title of this course is “Professional Wine Studies.”  While many of the wine classes taught around the world center on tasting, this course is centered on basic wine knowledge and how to use it within the context of a hospitality career.  I focus the class on learning about basic wine styles (white, red, sparkling, dessert…yes, that basic); how they are made, where they are made, and the world’s best known or most popular examples.  We learn how to taste wine so that we can talk about wine, and spend several class sessions role-playing the role of the server, sommelier, or salesperson.  We use my “mad libs for wine” to learn to write meaningful, concise wine descriptions. We learn about beverage costing as it applies to wines by the bottle and glass. We spend a good deal of time of food and wine pairing, which makes sense as most of my students see themselves as future chefs.  Finally, we spend a good deal of time discussing how to write a wine list and market wine in a restaurant or other setting.

So for my final practical exam this semester, I came up with the idea of an exercise in writing a wine list.  I started out by surfing the internet for nice, clear pictures of wine labels. This took a while as I wanted to use wine labels from wines we had studied and my students would be familiar with.  I also wanted a good mix of red, white, dessert wines and sparkling wines.  I came up with a word file full of about 30 wine labels that includes Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja, Napa Meritage, Lodi Zin and Oregon Pinot for the reds.   For the whites I found Fumé Blanc, a nice German Riesling, an Aussie Chard…you get the idea.  I had six sparkling  wines including a few from California, a Cava, a Prosecco, and of course Champagne.  For the sweet wines I included Moscato d’Asti, Sauternes, Late Harvest Zin, Ruby Port and Muscat-Beaumes-de-Venise.  Remember, these are all wines that we had studied, and in most cases, tasted.

 I did a bit of cut and paste and gave every student a stack of 30 wine labels, and created a faux “wholesale price list”. Then, I gave the class two hours to write a wine list that was to include the following details:

  • Meaningful Categorization
  • Absolutely perfect listing of each wine to include producer, name of the wine, region of origin and vintage date (as applicable)
  • Progressive wine list format
  • A concise description of each wine (I like to use what I call a “five word description” such as “light, dry and crisp with fruity and floral flavors”.)
  • Two food pairing suggestions for each wine.
  • Pricing by the glass and bottle, as well as a spreadsheet detailing each item’s potential beverage cost and gross profit.

As they completed the project, I had every student bring their list up to me for a quick discussion and review.  Lots of learning can go in during that review period.  I had them describe how they chose to categorize their wines, how they arranged them in order and how the details of the list will be useful as a sales tool.

All in all, I have to say I think they all did a great job!  I was very impressed with the final projects, and think that it was a meaningful, active learning experience all around.  It was good exposure to the “nuts and bolts” of writing and designing a wine list.  Most importantly, we all had a great time and I feel it was a good example of active learning and a “flipped classroom”.

If you would like a copy of the materials I created for the class, click here: Bubbly Prof – Wine Labels for Wine List Project

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net 

 

 

The ABC’s of MCQ’s

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had me look over a 100-question multiple-choice test she had just written.  My friend works for a community college with a new culinary program, and she has been tasked with putting together a series of three professional wine studies classes that will ostensibly prepare students to take a certification test from one of the many groups in the U.S. that give wine people the opportunity to line the walls of their study with plaques proclaiming that the owner “knows a whole lot about wine” and lets them add a few letters following their name on a business card.  She has a lot of test writing in her future.

The first question on the final exam she was writing for the introductory class was, verbatim, as follows:

                1.  A wine region in South Africa is:
                                a.  Kirwan
                                b.  Tutuven
                                c.  Benguela
                                d. Robertson

 The answer is “D – Robertson” – but that’s about the only thing right about this question.

Much to my chagrin, the rest of her “test” was composed of 99 more questions, each very similar in style and content to the first. I knew we had a lot of work ahead of us and really needed to improve her questions, hopefully before they went out to any bright-eyed, hopeful wine students. After seriously considering how to word my comments to her, my response went something like this:

                1.  Which of the following items is wrong with the multiple choice question quoted above?
                                a.  The question is grammatically incorrect.
                                b.  The question tests single subject, knowledge-only learning.
                                c.  The question covers trivial information.
                                d.  All of the above. 
 
                The answer is “D – All of the above”!

 

It seems like the universe has deemed me something of an MCQ Maven, as I am tasked with reviewing tests such as these on a weekly basis.  Well, I guess that makes sense for an academic director. So, I thought I’d write down a few of the tips I was about to give my wine-teaching friend.  Perhaps they will help you as well!

 A.  When writing multiple choice questions, be grammatically correct! “A wine region in South Africa is Robertson” doesn’t sound correct even if I use my Yoda voice (which I do quite often).  To be grammatically correct about being grammatically correct, the question is confusing based on subject/predicate placement and uses the passive voice unnecessarily.  

Ideally, the stem of a MQC should be written as a complete sentence, and in the form of a question.  This is referred to in MCQ-lingo as the “direct question format” In the case of “question #1”, a proper direct question format would be:

                Which of the following is a wine region located in South Africa?
                Or…
                Which of the following wine regions is located in South Africa?

Using the incomplete statement format (also known as “fill in the blank”) is also considered appropriate, but most test writers still prefer the direct question format and use the incomplete statement format only when a direct question isn’t feasible. For the sake of illustration, a proper incomplete statement format for this question would be:

                 _____________ is a wine region in South Africa.

 It’s grammatically correct, but I still don’t like it. You’ll see why, below.

 B.  When writing multiple-choice questions, ensure the validity of your test by emphasizing higher-order thinking skills.  In other words, don’t write a test that can be passed by anyone who just locks themselves in a Holiday Inn for the weekend and memorizes the text, only to forget it all by Tuesday. 

Writing “knowledge-only” test questions is faster and easier compared to writing questions that test for understanding.  However, as in all things, you get what you give. Writing a test chock-full of single-subject knowledge-only questions is inexcusably lazy and might just get your test thrown out for being invalid and unreliable (the mortal sins of the testing world).  Another sin is to quote directly from the text in your questions, unless the entire purpose of the test is to rate photographic memory recall. 

Avoid these sins by writing at least half of your questions in a manner that tests understanding of the material by using memory plus application, cause-and-effect, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, or integration of subject matter. Here’s a better test question about Robertson:

                 Which of the following wines is mostly likely to be produced in the Robertson wine region?
                                a.  A sturdy, Shiraz-based red wine made from grapes grown in South Australia.
                                b.  A dry, Riesling-based wine made from grapes grown in Western  Australia.  
                                c.  A high-volume, fortified wine made from grapes grown in  South Africa.
                                d.  A  boutique-produced  Meritage blend made from grapes grown in South Africa.  

Is it obvious why this test question takes longer to write than our original question?  First of all, it  avoids testing for trivia in that each distractor and the correct answer involves not just one but two pieces of factual information (all of which must be properly vetted, no matter how smart the test writer thinks himself/herself).  It involves memory-plus application in that students need to know a bit more about the wine region rather than just where it is and integrates several types of information about the topic.

Incidentally, such a question is actually easier for a well-prepared test taker to answer correctly than a shorter question. At first glance, it would seem like a more complicated question, but in reality the test taker has more than just one chance at remembering the facts specified in the question, and can call upon a broader base of knowledge to ascertain the correct answer.  This is also a good example of how to build some “validity” and “reliability” into your tests.

For much more information on writing MCQ’s that test for higher-order thinking skills, see my previous blog post here:  https://bubblyprofessor.com/2012/02/26/train-the-trianer-taxonomy-of-a-wine-test/

 

 C.   When writing multiple choice questions, don’t test for trivia! If my friend was writing a 100-question test on the South African wine industry, a question about Robertson would have been appropriate.  The way it stood, however, had me humming “can you guess which thing is not like the other” for days. Keep in mind that her test was intended to be a final exam covering three months worth of classes and a 653-page textbook.  The kicker is that the only mention of Robertson in the massive text is a table on page 427 that lists over 75 South African regions, districts, and wards in 8-point type.  The items offered as distractors are just as obscure.  There is no way that any student can get that question correct unless they are just plain lucky.  They could be lucky in that they just happen to remember reading “Robertson” in the midst of that periodic chart of S.A. regions, or they just took a lucky guess.  Either way, this question is not a valid indicator of wine knowledge…but it would make a great “Trivial Pursuit – South African Wine Geek Edition” question.

When writing single-subject knowledge questions, ensure that the knowledge being tested is based on a student learning objective of the course, not just trivial information. You should only use your single-subject knowledge questions to test for important or significant information. When writing such questions, don’t be fooled into thinking that MCQ’s concerning broad information such as the definition of “malolactic fermentation” must by definition be “easy” questions. The ease or difficulty of such questions is totally under your command.  The more similar the distractors are to each other and the correct answer, the more difficult the question will be. If malolactic fermentation is a key learning objective of your class, feel free to make it a difficult question.

One good way to manage this process is to sit down and think of the ten or twenty most important  concepts you want a graduate of your program to understand.  These should, of course, be reflected in your course objectives. Then, write a fair question for each of them, varying the level of difficulty across the test.  For example, I tell my students on the first day of class that every day we will have a “word of the day” and it’s very important that they know them.  My “words of the day” include such bon mots as Carbonic Maceration and Botrytis. I also emphasize “Miss Jane’s Top Ten Terroirs” throughout the class and tell the class they really need to know these ten wine producing regions and what goes on there.  My top ten terroirs include Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja…you get the idea.

Another good way to create knowledge-based questions is to write questions that cover more than one “tidbit” of information.  It is possible to write valid, knowledge-based MCQ’s if the question is integrated rather than single subject oriented.  Here are a few examples of integrated questions, all of which I suggested for use in place of my friend’s ill-advised question on Robertson:

                 Which of the following South African wine regions are located in the interior of the country?

                                a.            Worcester and Robertson
                                b.           Stellenbosch and Paarl
                                c.             Constantia and Elgin
                                d.            Elim and Klein Karoo

                (And the answer is… “A”!)

                 Franschhoek, Constantia, and Robertson are all well-known wine producing regions in which
                of the following countries? 
                                a.            New Zealand
                                b.            Australia
                                c.             Argentina
                                d.            South Africa 
               
                     (And the answer is… “D”!)
 
You’ll note that while these questions are knowledge-based (ok for about 50% of your test), they are not trivia-based in that they include more than one piece of information, both requiring and rewarding a broad base of knowledge and application as opposed to “I’ll take South Africa for 200, Alex”!
 

 Here’s a few more guidelines for writing MCQ’s:

  • Don’t quote from the text or test for information that is specific to just one source. In other words, don’t use your textbook’s description of Chenin Blanc (“apple, straw, melon”) and assume it is a universal definition.
  • Please keep in mind that there is a world of information beyond the text book that needs to be acknowledged.  I recently reviewed a test that asked “which of the following wines is exclusively red” and listed Châteanuf du Pape, Hermitage, Bordeaux and Beaujolais as possible answers.  You will note that none of these answers is exactly correct.   The supposed “correct” answer was Beaujolais, which I happen to know produces a white wine, albeit a somewhat obscure one.  My friend, who wrote the test, replied “but it’s not in the text.” Argh. By the way, mistakes such as this punish the student with broad knowledge and reward the last-minute text-memorizer.  Double Argh.
  • Properly vet each and every question and each and every correct answer and distractor.  That means solid research (well above and beyond just the text in use) on every question and question topic. This is to ensure that’s there is one (and only one) solid correct answer and yes, this this takes a lot of time. 

 

Good luck writing your multiple choice questions.  I am sure you will soon realize that while they do take a great deal of time to develop, a valid test is worth the effort. And don’t forget the payback…they are so quick to grade, as opposed to essay questions.  Stay tuned to this blog for future posts on writing and grading essay questions, by the way. 

 And please…help stamp out lazy test writers!