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!

Flower Power

One of the most rewarding (and labor-intensive) classes I have ever taught is called “Flower Power”.  I came up with the concept for my college-based wine club, “The Grapeheads,” after leading monthly wine events for basically the same group of people for four years…in other words, I was running out of ideas!

This was one of those times when I just wasn’t sure how it would go; it could either be a brilliant success or a dismal failure. The day before the event I almost gave up on the idea and was about to swap it out for a generic white wine class disguised as a  tasting of obscure grape varieties.  I even had a name…”Let your mind go blanc!”  In retrospect, it’s a good thing I didn’t go with the alternative, and whether through pure dumb luck or lots of effort in the preparation phase (I’ll never know), the Flower Power class turned out to be of my all-time best classes in both attendance and execution.

The point of the class is that floral descriptors are among the most misunderstood of all wine aromas. Not too many people, beyond the modest appeal of edible flowers, fancy drinking something that smells like a flower.  Plus, while floral aromas are exotic and pleasant, in the day and age of the concrete city most people’s closest interaction with floral aromas is shampoos, dish detergents, and perfumes.

Another issue with floral aromas is people just don’t recognize them beyond the basic “floral, wildflower, garden after the rain, or perfume” descriptors.  My opinion is most people just don’t interact with the real thing very often, and when they do it is far from an academic affair.  In other words, most people have not had the opportunity to really sniff the actual flowers and make a real effort learn to identify the aromas.  Most people I know wouldn’t know even be able to tell a gardenia from an orchid in any situation!

To introduce the session, I began with a brief lecture accompanied by some beautiful pictures of flowers via Power Point. I discussed the different floral aromas found in wines, described what wines are likely to show floral aromas, and introduced the “WineSpeak” often used to describe floral aromas in wine.

Next, (this was the labor-intensive part), we had a flower-sniffing session.  I had 12 different types of flowers, labeled and arranged ever-so-cutely in wine glasses for a walk-around sniffing. Next to each flower, I had a sample glass in which I placed a few flower petals over which I poured a small splash of wine.

On another table, I had some well-labeled floral essential oils; these were presented via a cute little cotton ball in an even-cuter wine glass.  I also used—I must admit—some candles (yeah Yankee Candle Store). All told we had 25 different floral aromas represented.

Finally, to round out the day, we did a blind tasting of some exotically scented wines that exhibited floral aromas.  Taking a chance on this oddball of a class turned out to be worth it, and I was amazed at the ability of my students to recognize and identify those floral aromas! Of course, the wine was delicious as well.

Here’s a copy of the handout I presented that day:

Flower Power:  Wines and Floral Aromas

Don’t worry or leave:  Using a floral descriptor for a wine does not mean that you wine is about to taste like flowers, perfume or shampoo. Floral is style descriptor that applies mainly to a wine’s scent.  That being said, many wines have an intoxicating floral aroma.

It”s normal if find this hard to grasp:  since most floral aromas are somewhat exotic, you are not likely to come into contact with such scents everyday.  Keep an open mind and practice! You can experience floral aromas at the flower shop, a candle store, an herb shop (as in dried flowers or essential oils)…and you may find that you develop an appreciation for floral characteristics in wine.

Common floral aromas that reveal themselves in wine:

  • Acacia
  • Gardenia
  • Hibiscus
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hyacinth
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Lily
  • Orange Blossom
  • Rose
  • Violet

Other terminology  you may use to recognize or describe floral aromas are:

  • Wildflowers, Dried flowers, Dried roses
  • Rose perfume, Perfume
  • Old lady perfume (my personal favorite, and one that everyone understood)
  • Wedding bouquet
  • Walking through the Garden (as if WineSpeak wasn’t wacky enough)
  • Nivea Cream (this one you have to experience to believe)
  • Linalool, Honey

Grapes (and Wines) that Lend Themselves to Floral Aromas Include:

  • Albariño
  • Beaujolais
  • Bordeaux
  • Chenin Blanc
  • Gamay
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Muscat/Moscato
  • Pinot Gris
  • Pinot Noir
  • Riesling
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Torrontes
  • Viognier

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

Mad Libs for Wine!

It never fails…the first time I stand in front of a new wine class and describe a white wine as having aromas of “lemon, lime, green apple, and apricot” I get either a sea of blank stares or an uncomfortable laugh track.  A few weeks into the class, however, my students are begging me to teach them how to “impress their friends and annoy their enemies” by crafting an impressive sounding wine description.

My response:  “You mean one like this?”

“Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a dry, medium-bodied white wine.  The nose reveals the fruity, floral, and  mineral aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, gooseberry, orange blossom and wet stones.  This wine is herbal and fruity on the palate, with lively acidity; followed by a refreshing, slightly bitter lemon-peel finish.”

And then, in the course of an hour, I teach them to use “Mad Libs for Wine” – in other words, a fill-in-the blank template that allows even beginners to create an accurate (and yes, impressive sounding, if you’re into that) description of any wine.  We just take ten simple facts about the wine and string them together into a few sentences.

Try it for yourself!

The WineSpeak 101 Description Template:

To write your own wine description, use the WineSpeak 101 descriptor crib to fill in the blanks on this template.  Your completed description will characterize the wine using the following basic facts:

  • Name of the Wine 
  • Level of Sweetness
  • Mouthfeel – aka “Body”
  • Type of wine (the easiest, but your customer needs to know!)
  • Aroma   Categories
  • Specific  Aromas
  • Flavor  
  • Acidity for white wines, tannin level for reds 
  • Finish  – length 
  • Finish  – description 

 ___________________________________ (Name of the wine) is a _______________ (Sweetness),

 __________________________________ (Mouthfeel) ,   _______________________ (Type of) wine. 

 The Nose reveals the ____________________________________________ (Aroma Categories) aromas 

 of ____________________________________________________________ (Specific Aromas) .

This wine is ___________________________________________________________ (Flavors) and 

____________________________________________ (Acidity or Tannin, or both) on the palate, followed by a  

_____________________ (Finish – Length) , __________________________ (Finish – Description)  finish.

As you can see, it’s not exactly a party trick, but if you know your way around the typical wine vocabulary, it’s easy to put together a meaningful wine description.  My students are amazed at how well they can discuss their impressions of a wine after just a few practice sessions.  This technique works so well that I wrote an entire textbook on “WineSpeak 101” a few years ago, and still use it today in my teaching.

Please…try it for yourself and enjoy your studies!

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

You Teach Wine Online?

Many of my colleagues- and most of my friends – find it quirky that I teach wine classes online.  Just about every time the subject comes up, I get asked, point-blank, “How does that work”?  The simple answer is that I teach an academic, theory-based professional wine studies course…not the type of wine tasting class one might take at the local wine bar.

Of course, most people still don’t get it.  However, I can tell you that online wine courses are big business.  Over the past five years I have taught up to three online wine courses at a time, each worth three college credits and lasting between six and eleven weeks, and they’ve all been full, most with a waiting list of students eager to join.

The basics of my online wine class, like all the other online classes I teach, revolves around reading, online chats, individual and group assignments, and discussion forums.  Here is a typical week worth of classroom assignments and activities:

  • Two or three chapters of assigned reading in a text book or other assigned readings.
  • Two or three “online chats” which resemble the “webinars” that most of us are familiar with.  I design the visuals, provide a lecture, and using teleconferencing or the platform’s  chat function, create an interactive classroom for about an hour at a time (it’s exhausting).  These are recorded and available for viewing on the online class platform.
  • One or two discussion forums where I post a discussion topic and students can, over the course of the week, post their ideas and opinions. Facilitiating an online discussion is certainly a learned skill.
  • An individual or group written assignment. Feedback on written assignments in a online classroom is paramount, and assignment-specific rubrics need to be designed and made available to students at the beginning of class. 

Ok, I still know what you are thinking…”but how do you teach wine online”?  In this type of class, it is not about tasting (although it can be done, more on that at a later date).  To give you a better idea of how this works, here are some examples of discussion forum topics I have used in teaching wine online.

Discussion forum topic:  A customer in your fine dining restaurant orders the following three-course meal:  Scallop Ceviche with Candied Jalapeno, Roast Pork Loin with Apricot Glaze served with Couscous and Grilled Asparagus, followed by a cheese plate with Gorgonzola, Brie, and Manchego Cheeses.  Your customer is dining alone, and would like you to suggest one bottle of wine that would go well with all three courses.  What wine would you recommend to him and why?

Discussion forum topic: A customer in your wine bar has just “discovered” Chianti and it is his “new favorite wine”.  He requests a glass of Chianti, but you do not carry Chianti, or any Sangiovese-based wine for that matter.  What wine would you recommend to him and why?  Be sure and describe  the attributes that your chosen wine has in common with Sangiovese-based wine, how it differs from a Sangiovese-based wine, and what it is about this wine that you feel would appeal to your customer.

Discussion forum topic:  You are the food and beverage director of a large resort hotel.  You are holding a training session for six new servers and are discussing the wine list.  One of your new recruits is surprised that your wine list includes a large selection of rosé.  She wrinkles her nose and says something like “that’s what my mom drinks – it’s like Kool-Aid!  I thought this was a fancy place”!  How would you address her comment? 

Stay tuned later this week for further discussion of teaching wine online, including examples of individual and group project assignments.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about online teaching, contact me at missjane@prodigy.net

 

Train the Trainer: Taxonomy of a Wine Class

In a previous blog post we learned all about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives, and how using this concept in the design and implementation of your classes (even your wine classes) can lead to improved student learning (and engagement and retention.)

If you didn’t catch the first post in this series, you can read it here:

https://bubblyprofessor.com/2012/02/25/train-the-trainer-blooms-taxonomy-of-learning-objectives/

As promised, here are some sample learning objectives for a class on food and wine pairing, for each  each level of the hierarchy. You can read the source material here

Additionally, as faculty often find it a challenge to develop effective test questions above the level of “knowledge” or “memory”(particularly multiple choice questions), I offer sample MCQ’s at each level.

Level 1: – Knowledge – Remembering

  • Learning Objective: List the three most important concepts to consider when pairing food and wine.
  • At this level, one simply requires the recall of information.  Warning!  A test at this level can be passed by a night of drunken “cramming” before a test, and the information forgotten by the next night of drinking!!
  • Please do not: Use this level for more than 50% of your test questions.

 Sample MCQ:  Which of the following represent the three most important concepts to consider when pairing food and wine?

  • A . Fruit, Flavor, and Tannin
  • B.  Taste, Flavor, Texture
  • C.  Fruit, Flavor, and Texture
  • D.  Taste, Flavor, and Tannin

Level 2:  Comprehension – Understanding

  • Learning Objective:  Identify what components of the food and wine equation  are almost always the most important consideration in a food and wine pairing and explain why.
  • At this level, knowledge of the three components is assumed and one tests for understanding of this knowledge.

Sample MCQ:  What components in a food are almost always the most important consideration in a food and wine pairing?

  • A.  Taste components, because specific tastes in foods will change the way wine is perceived in a predictable manner.
  • B.  Taste components, because they can be either matched or contrasted.
  • C.  Flavors, because tastes can only be matched while flavors can be matched or contrasted.
  • D.  Flavors, because “natural affinities” are among the best food and wine pairings.  

Level 3:  Application – Applying

  • Learning Objective:  Determine what is the most important element to consider when pairing wine with a specific dish, demonstrated by the following dish:  Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce served on a bed of Asparagus Risotto. 
  • Note that at this level, knowledge of the background to the question is assumed to be both known and understood, and students are expected to apply this knowledge and understanding.  In this case, we are looking for the student to apply a known set of food and wine pairing principles.

 Sample MCQ:  When choosing a wine pairing for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce, what is the most important element to consider?

  • A. The lemon flavor of the sauce.
  • B. The flavor intensity of the grill marks.
  • C. The saltiness of the fish.
  • D. The acidity of the lemon sauce.

Level 4:  Analysis –Analyzing

  • Learning Objective:  Break down the various components of a dish or menu and determine what components are dominant and the effect each would have on a wine pairing. For instance, what impact would the acidity in a dish have on a white wine?
  • Note that the student is assumed to know and understand the information and to apply the information.  This objective stresses the ability to break down the food and wine in question into their component parts and assume an outcome.  Note that this question does not require the student to create a pairing (level five) or evaluate whether or not this is a good pairing (level six).

 Sample MCQ:  What effect would the Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper sauce produce when paired with Sauvignon Blanc?

  • A. It would make the acidity in the wine more pronounced.
  • B. It would make the acidity in the wine less pronounced.
  • C. It would bring out the bitterness in the wine.
  • D. It would make the fruity flavors of the wine pop.

 

Level 5:  Synthesis (Creation) – Creating

  • Learning Objective: Design a wine pairing of three different wines to complement the grilled halibut dish.
  • At this level, the student needs to have the knowledge and the comprehension of the principles of food and wine pairing, be able to apply it to a real-world example, and be able to analyze the components of both the food and the wines before he or she can create the pairing.

 Sample MCQ: Which of the following wine flights would make the best pairing for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce, based on the proper taste components and a potential flavor bridge?

  • A.  Oaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer
  • B.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer
  • C.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier
  • D.  Unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling

Level 6:  Evaluation – Evaluating

  • Learning Objective:  Evaluate specific wine choices for a specific dish, and give your opinion on the quality of the pairings.  For instance, evaluate whether an oaked chardonnay a good choice for the grilled halibut dish in the previous question, and discuss why or why not. 
  • At this level, the student is expected to know, comprehend, apply and analyze the principles of food and wine pairing, and, describe the outcome of the pairing, and form an opinion on whether or not this is a good match.

Sample MCQ:  Is oaked chardonnay a good choice for Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce?  Why or why not?

  • A.  Yes, because the acidity is a good match and the saltiness of the capers will work well with the oak.
  • B.  No, because while the acidity is a good match, the saltiness of the capers will potentially clash with the oak.
  • C.  Yes, because the flavors of the lemon in the sauce will work well with the lemony flavors of the wine.
  • D.  No, because the flavors of lemon in the sauce will clash with the tropical flavors of the wine.

I hope this post gives you some guidance and encouragement to teach to all levels of the learning taxonomy.  I also hope it shows teachers that effective exam questions, even Multiple Choice Questions, can be written at all levels of the learning taxonomy and that we stop giving exams that are basically “wine trivia contests”. 

I realize that this method of teaching and writing tests is not simple, but it does get easier with practice.  However, keep in mind that teaching and testing to the higher levels of the learning hierarchy will enhance the quality of your teaching and the  validity of your exams – guaranteed! 

Cheers! 

Train the Trainer: Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives

Benjamin Bloom  (1913 – 1999) was an interesting gentleman indeed.  Back in the 1940’s and 50’s he held several impressive roles in higher education, including 16 years as the “University Examiner” at the University of Chicago.  In this position, he analyzed and approved the university’s tests to determine if undergraduates had mastered the material necessary for them to receive their bachelor’s degrees. He also wrote or co-authored 18 books on education, all of them with the goal of “enhancing student learning”.

During his time as University Examiner, he discovered that over 95% of the test questions students encountered required them to think at only the lowest possible level…the recall of information.  In other words, most tests – even at the University level – resembled nothing more than a “memory trick.” 

I have to admit, I agree.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest issues in education, including wine education, today.  A  while back, I was asked to look over a took a wine test written by a friend of mine.  It was intended to be the final exam in a semester-long “Professional Wine Studies”  course she was teaching at a 2-year college as part of a hospitality management program. Much to my chagrin, the test amounted to nothing more than a really long wine trivia contest. She could have sold it to Hasbro as “Trivial Pursuit – Vinous Version“!

The issue I had with the test is that all it really assessed was memorization. Very few, if any, of the questions required even the slightest bit of comprehension, application or evaluation.  Sorry to say, my friend was a member of the dreaded “lazy test writer club.”  The test she was about to give could have been passed by anyone who locked themselves in a closet with a copy of The Wine Bible for two days before the test.  Of course, the day after the test they wouldn’t remember a thing.  (We fixed the test before it went out to the examinees – global wine education crisis averted!)

 

Back to Benjamin Bloom and his solution for all this. 

In 1954, after a series of educational conferences, Bloom was tasked with leading a committee with the goal of improving  the quality of  teaching practices, curriculum development, and the validity of university exams. The result was a classification of learning objectives – the goals that educators set for learners – built around a hierarchy of levels of understanding.  In an ideal learning situation, students would master the lowest levels of learning, such as knowledge and memorization, and then move up to learning at the “higher order thinking skills” such as application, evaluation, and synthesis. If applied properly, this idea should influence or even change the way you teach, and equally importantly, how you design your tests. 

Here is a very quick overview of the six levels of learning, paraphrased in my own words. I hope they meet with Mr. Bloom’s approval.

Level 1:  Knowledge – Remembering

  • Definition:  Student recalls or recognizes information, ideas, or principles in the approximate form in which they were learned.
  • Good for:  Dates, Events, Places, Vocabulary, Key Ideas, Facts, Figures.
  • Please don’t: Write all your test questions at this level.   

 Level 2:  Comprehension – Understanding

  • Definition:  Student translates, comprehends, or interprets information based on prior learning.
  • Good for: Finding meaning, Interpreting facts, Giving examples.

 Level 3:  Application – Applying

  • Definition:  Student uses the information to solve a problem or complete a task.
  • Good for: Use of information in new situations, solving problems, case studies.

 Level 4:  Analysis –Analyzing

  • Definition: Student breaks down information into simpler parts and understands patterns and organization. 
  • Good for:  Recognizing and explaining patterns and meaning, seeing the “parts and the whole”, breaking things down, critical thinking.

Level 5:  Synthesis (Creation) – Creating

  • Definition:  Student originates, integrates and combines ideas into a product, plan, or proposal that is new to him/her.
  • Good for: Building things up, putting concepts together, creating new ideas, plans, or products.

 Level 6:  Evaluation – Evaluating

  • Definition:  Student appraises, assesses, or critiques on a basis of specific standards and criteria.
  • Good for:  Making recommendations and choices, assessing value, critiquing ideas, predicting outcomes.  

Due to its long history and popularity,  the actual wording and order of the “hierarchy” has been  revised, condensed, expanded, modernized, and re-interpreted in a variety of ways over the past 60 years.  However, Bloom’s Taxonomy has clearly stood the test of time.  Every teacher should use this material. 

It’s the year 2012, and a seminar on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives is included in my annual faculty development plan this year, as it is every year.  It’s one of the most important concepts I want my faculty to know..and comprehend, and apply, and analyze and evaluate.

Stay tuned later this week when I’ll provide some examples of “Bloom’s Taxonomy in Action” in wine education and testing.

Train the Trainer: The Power of Schema

Do you remember what it was like when you were trying to memorize the names of the different Champagne bottle sizes for your CSW exam?  You studied and studied, only to forget the terms by the next day.  Finally, you dreamed up a silly mnemonic device such as “Mary Jackson makes small boys nervous.”

Brilliant!!  Now you can remember M-J-M-S-B-N…in other words, the perfect sequence of:

  • Magnum
  • Jeroboam
  • Methuselah
  • Salmanazar
  • Balthazar
  • Nebuchadnezzer

Congratulations! What you did was trick your brain, and while it may have helped you pass your CSW exam, it did nothing to help you really know and understand the relevance of the different sizes of the bottles. In order to do that, you would really have to experience them.  I suggest buying one of each bottle size of your favorite Champagne, and on subsequent nights, consume the entire thing while both taking pictures and keeping an on-line journal of your thoughts. (What do you mean, that’s not practical?)  Never fear, there is an easier way.

As the Bubbly Professor, I am not here to criticize your study habits, but I am interested in just why it is so much easier to remember a sentence than it is to memorize a string of seemingly unconnected data, and how we might use such information to make our teaching and learning more effective.

It boils down to one word:  Schema.  Schema is a powerful learning concept which has been discussed in the context of educational psychology since Dr. Frederic Bartlett coined the term in the 1800’s – although if you study the educational practices of the Ancient Greeks you can clearly see that they were wise to it as well.

Schema is one of the factors of the educational process that can determine – in the first few seconds of learning – whether or not something that is being perceived will actually be remembered, and more importantly, understood.  A schema is a type of mental framework – a way of organizing thoughts around some aspect of the world. Schema involves prior knowledge, the structure of that knowledge, and the way we fit new knowledge into our “world.” 

Simply put, the brain is just not wired to remember random words, numbers, or details out of context. One of the best methods for getting students to remember details is to tell them the meaning, context, or conclusion of the material before you present the details – in other words, introduce a schema.  

According to research, (thank you, Dr. R.C. Anderson),  triggering a schema around a moment of learning can increase retention and comprehension of the salient details by between 50 and 100%.

So, how do we harness this knowledge and turn it into teaching power? 

Here are three tips:

Teach meaning before details.

As we have experienced, the brain is just not wired to remember random words, numbers, or details out of context.  To help your students remember details,   tell them the meaning, context, or conclusion of the material before you present the details.

In 2005, I did a little classroom experiment in my “Wines of France” class concerning the “facts and figures” of Beaujolais. Over the course of a year, 500 students were taught the details of the wine before the historical story of the wine, and another group of 500 were taught the story before the details.  In other words, the second group of 500 was provided with a schema. 

The results:  students who were taught the details of the wine before the telling of the story got a total of 68% of the questions on a pop quiz given the following day correct.  The students who were told the story before being told the details of the wine got a total of 91% of the answers correct.  While both figures could demonstrate the effectiveness of narrative as a teaching device, the students who were taught the meaning before the details did significantly better.

Use the power of three.

One of the easiest ways to set up a schema is to use pattern recognition using the “power of three.”  Three is the minimum number of items the brain needs to see before it recognizes a pattern,in other words, invokes a schema.  In addition, three details or “chunks” of information sit well within the limits of working memory.

It’s easy to think of dozens of examples of this concept in use in popular culture, literature, and oration.  For example:

  • Lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!)
  • Sex, Lies, and Videotape
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Friends, Romans, Countrymen…
  • Three bears, three wishes, three graces.  Now you know why there are three!

A great tip to put this power to use is to start a session off with the statement: “Today, I want you to remember three things.”  Everyone can remember three things, it doesn’t sound too hard.  Then, it’s your job to “chunk” all your “facts and figures” into three meaningful chunks – now known as “schemata.” 

DIY Schema

Since prior knowledge is essential for the comprehension of new information, teachers either need to help students build the prerequisite knowledge, or remind them of what they already know before introducing new material. 

You might have to get creative with this, but with the subject of food and wine it is often possible to find references to our subject matter in pop culture, movies, television, and even songs. 

Another great teaching tip is to create your own set of schema by purposely “injecting” your classes or sessions with references to future material.  It takes some deliberate effort, but your students will appreciate your efforts – whether they are aware of them or not!