Using Humor in the Classroom
“But why am I being forced to leave? “School is not enjoyable!” That quote comes from a first-grade child who inquires of his mother as to why he is required to go to a place that he was told would be a lot of fun but has not lived up to the expectations. His ability to communicate would allow him to say something like, “I am only six.” I enjoy having a good time, but school is not enjoyable, and from what I can tell, it is only going to get worse with each passing year.”
This is not a hoax or a joke for April Fool’s Day; it is all too true. Because of this, we are constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to engage and inspire students. On the other hand, we are well aware that teachers are not chosen or trained to be comedians or entertainers, as is commonly believed. We do, however, know that a positive learning environment, as well as enjoyment, is associated with greater retention of information and application of knowledge in real-world situations (see Figure 1). (including tests).
Confused? I’m in the same boat. As a result, I sought the advice of an expert: Mr Ed Dunkelblau is a former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, Director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning, and a consultant to schools on character education and social and emotional learning (SEL) approaches, as well as to military families dealing with the stress of serving in the military. When I spoke with him, we talked about how to incorporate humour into the classroom.
I inquired as to how humour could be incorporated into the curriculum when teachers have so much material to cover in their classes. “In the current environment of high stakes testing, budgetary constraints increased demands on educators, and competition for students’ attention, everyone in the school benefits when humour is incorporated into the pedagogy,” he explained. “Through the joyful confluence of head and heart, humour fosters the development of a learning relationship.” He cites a growing body of research showing that humour can reduce stress and tension in the classroom, improve information retention, and promote creative understanding.
“But, most importantly, it fosters a sense of pleasure and appreciation, as well as a shared, positive emotional experience that the students can share with the teacher,” says the author.
Humour Strategies to Use
Although you may be “humour challenged,” there are some things you can do to lighten the load and dissipate the clouds in your classroom that Ed describes as “awesome.” Above all, keep in mind that sarcasm has no place in a learning environment. Aside from that, only “no harm” humour is permitted.
Laugh at yourself — whenever you do something silly or wrong, bring it up and laugh about it with your friends.
Tests, homework, and class assignments can all be made more amusing by including humorous items. Even at the university level, one of my favourite options when giving multiple choice exams requiring students to identify pairs of psychologists is the phrase “Calamari and Endive.” It always brings smiles to people’s faces and helps to relieve exam stress.
In your classroom, create a quotable quotes bulletin board or corner where students can post funny quotes. Encourage them to do the same.
Maintain a cartoon archive and designate a space where you can display one or two cartoons per day on a rotating basis, with students selecting which ones to display.
Consider having “Joke Friday” where students are encouraged to contribute jokes to be shared either at the beginning of the day on Friday, during the transition between lunch and the following class, or at the end of the day (be sure to screen the jokes in advance, of course).
Assigning students the task of attempting to incorporate humour into their occasional writing assignments will help to spark a discussion about what makes something funny, how they know something is funny, and why different people find different things funny while some things are funny to almost everyone.
You could have a funny hat day, mismatched socks day, or some other amusing dress-up occasion.
Create opportunities for students to think creatively and humorously by showing cartoons and pictures without captions and asking them to create them — individually, in pairs, or small groups.
Inviting students to bring in books that they find amusing is a good idea. Instruct them to explain why they chose this option and to use examples from the book.
Truth be told, however, there is another side to the storey to consider as well. In his storey, Ed tells of a group of people who are not particularly enthusiastic about bringing humour into classrooms and schools: private practice therapists. “The more laughs our society loses, the more humourless our society becomes, and the more clients our society creates, the more laughs our society loses,” says the author. Laughter is an excellent stress-relieving tool. According to the AATH, “Those who laugh last, die first”. Those who do not comply will pay a price.” But, in reality, it is the children who bear the brunt of the burden, and they should not have to.
Let’s make school a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Laughter isn’t necessary; a smile and a dash of good humour can go a long way in a difficult situation. It is past time for us educators to take a more serious approach to humour. If you ask, I am confident that Ed will be happy to assist you.