Don’t worry be funny :-)

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’Classrooms in which laughter is welcome help bring learning to life.” (Kristmanson, 2000)

The traditional education system with its often dull methods seems to leave little room for one of human’s most wonderful characteristics, the production and enjoyment of humour. But when one examines the current education system and the benefits of humour there are endless opportunities to harness this tool to enhance, learning, understanding and discussion of material. The positive emotions that are brought to the fore through humour can increase our engagement with a particular subject or topic by altering how academic material is perceived and dealt with, in addition to creating a favourable classroom environment, where students feel relaxed (Powell and Andresen, 1985), (Berk, 1996, 1998) and (Loomax and Moosavi, 1998).

Research has shown that the affective state that one is in can influence ones cognitive processes (Hannula, 2006). One “fundamental principle of human behavior is that emotions energize and organize perception, thinking and action” (Izard, 1991). Additionally from personal experience the teachers who were joyful and willing to look at the humorous side of the particular material we were covering were the teachers that were most liked and the classes in which I did and still do remember the most material from, as supported by (Powell and Andresen 1985), Korobkin (1988) and Stewart and Furse (1986). Bryant, Comisky, Crane, and Zillmann (1980) discovered that there is a positive link between using humour in a classroom and students ‘assessments of their male teachers on levels of favourability and overall successfulness of teaching’. Bryant et al. (1980) also show that a sense of humour is one of the most crucial attributes students desire from their teachers. One manner, in which humour benefits the teachers, is to make them come across as increasingly ‘approachable, down-to-earth, and friendly’. Flowers (2001) also says that utilizing humour in education lessens the disparity between student and teacher and promotes group work.

Kaplan and Pascoe (1977) maintain that appropriate humour to the particular subject material increases the student’s memory of the principles being taught. Edwards and Gibboney (1992) say that humour in the classroom is especially beneficial if it aids the clarification or understanding of a certain area, but the humour utilized must be relevant to the subject matter.

Humour also makes the material or particular course more enjoyable and interesting to students and instructors (Whisonant 1998Trefts and Blakeslee 2000) and Trefts and Blakeslee (2000) which intern increases attendance as students often only skip the most dull or boring classes. Friedman, Halpern, and Salb (1999) for example used humorous anecdotes in order to liven up and make a statistics course more engaging to the students.

Blumenfeld and Alpern (1985) lay out ten reasons why humour should be used in the classroom, these cover advantages like increasing avenues for communication. Burkhart (1998) and Lundberg and Thurston (1992) also discuss manners in which humour can be implemented in the classroom. Grecu, (2008) has looked into the benefits of using humour in teaching, he found that after integrating more humour into a typical classroom, the atmosphere became significantly more positive. Questions and issues were viewed in a positive light thereby, increasing motivation to learn (Shmakov and Hannula, 2009).

Kristmanson (2000) highlights the importance of fostering a classroom in which pupils feel welcome particularly for second language learning: “In order to take risks, you need a learning environment in which you do not feel threatened or intimidated. In order to speak, you need to feel you will be heard and that what you’re saying is worth hearing. In order to continue your language learning, you need to feel motivated. In order to succeed, you need an atmosphere in which anxiety levels are low and comfort levels are high. Issues of motivation and language anxiety are key to the topic of affect in the second language classroom.” Although Kristmanson (2000) was referring to learning a language this quote and the points that he has made is applicable and crucial for learning any subject.

Utilizing humour in your class also has positive impacts for the teacher and principal too, in addition to the wider classroom and school environment. Woods (1963), examined coping mechanism in a British high school, and found that humour and laughter played a key part in coping strategies of both teachers and students (Burford, 1987). This form of coping is supported by the following quote: ‘Life is tough, and if you have the ability to laugh at it you have the ability to enjoy it’ (Hayek, 2009).

Woods (1983) has shown that humour serves as a  coping mechanism in a number of different domains for instance ‘coping’ through humor allows reacting through ‘constructive and creative ways’. It is a manner of facing ‘contradictory goals’ that the educational system often throws at its teachers, in addition to the problems encountered in classes (Berlak and Berlak, 1981) and the stress produced by the ‘physical, emotional, intellectual’ requirements of the profession.

To conclude humour is a wonderful way for humans to express themselves and it can contribute a huge amount towards enhancing education for teachers and students alike. It allows educators to foster an affective and positive learning environment, reduces anxiety and stress levels in the students, increases engagement and motivation to learn and encourages a positive rapport to build between the teachers and pupils.

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4 responses »

  1. Very interesting ideas. Rareshide and Stephen (1993) found that humour could be used very effectively within classroom situations to achieve such things as reducing tension, increasing motivation, building student/teacher relationships and aiding instruction. They also warn against the use of sarcasm unless used in a very playful way. Similarly, Hashem (1994) adds that on top of these effects, humour can also facilitate the students’ understanding of the material presented and increasing engagement and participation.

    I would like to point out that humor can also be used to justify or downplay the damaging effects of negative behaviour such as procrastination. Though this could also be justified as being a coping strategy for the stress of procrastination.

    Humor downplays procrastination: http://manish-procrastination.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/procrastination.html

    Hashem (1994): http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED372442&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED372442

    Rareshide & Stephen (1993): http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED359165&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED359165

    • Following on from your point highlighted in the final paragraph on the advantages
      of humour on decreasing negative behaviours, humour has been found to reduce test anxiety. Brown and Itzig (1976) found that students with high levels of anxiety performed more positively on non-humorous tests as opposed to humorous tests, and students with low anxiety performed more positively on humorous tests than non-humorous tests. The authors thought that humor was behaving as an arousal mechanism, increasing arousal in students with high levels of anxiety and inhibited their performance; and aiding students with low levels of anxiety by arousing them enough to reach an optimum level of arousal for performing a test.

      Brown, A. S., & Itzig, J. B. (1976). The Interaction of Humor and Anxiety in Academic
      Test Situations. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 152 783.

      http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/public/etd-71798-173628/materials/Whisonant.pdf

  2. To a certain extent, the use of humour within the classroom brings me back to a myth of fun and interesting (Schnider, 2006) : as the scientist in me would suggest that learning doesn’t have to be enjoyable or interesting in order to be effective, but I constantly remember how I felt at school, and how much more engaging it was to be in a class which was funny!

    However, the fact that humour within the classroom is clearly an important thing, should not result in other key facets of a good lecture being ignored. We also need to change lecturers conceptions about what they are there to do: this paper suggests that some lecturers thing they are there to transmit learning, others to facilitate. Those who believe in facilitation are more likely to use student centred approaches- a key to success, IMHO! (http://www.springerlink.com/content/v7417465wv265615/).

    • Good point Lucy. Your last paragraph on the importance of changing lectures to asses what their role is in students learning, has put in a nut shell one of the many factors that in my opinion make this module so effective and enjoyable- its manner of facilitating learning through its use of student centred approaches. Wigginton ( 1996) states that for learning to truly effective students must be at the heart of the process and the learner must be the one to process information from educational experiences.

      But as everyone processes information differently and benefits from varying learning strategies on different days in my viewpoint educators should encourage whatever strategies help students to process information be it humour or other alternative techniques, in spite of the fact that as you say learning does not have to be fun and interesting (Schnider, 2006) to gain information for everyone, for certain learners it can certainly have a positive impact on their studies every now and then, and as we are all for putting students at the heart of learning I think we would be foolish not to let them use these strategies if it helps them.

      Wigginton, E. (1986). Sometimes a shining moment: The Foxfire experience. New
      York: Doubleday

      http://kristinandjerry.name/jerry_teaching/work_sample_2/Work%20Sample%20Materials/Experiential%20Education%20Readings/Student%20Centered%20Learning%20In%20Experiential%20Education%20-%20Estes.pdf

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