Humor Improves Instruction

Welcome teachers and other blog surfers,

This blog was created as a graduate school assignment for a course titled Humor and Adult Education. I know you are wondering, why you didn't have a requirement like that in grad school. Don't begrudge me, I didn't design the curriculum at NIU.

It is my goal to educate you (hopefully you are all adults) while discussing humor research (trust me it's not an oxymoron) in a humorous way. Now say that ten times faster! Hopefully, you will pick up a strategy or two that helps students learn more effectively, while making teaching more entertaining.

So sit back, strap on your seatbelt, hold onto your hat. I plan on taking you for a ride.


A Funny Teacher (or at least one who tries to be.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spontaneous Humor Versus Scripted Humor

There are many ways to use humor in your classroom. You can start with a comic strip, or a joke as the anticipatory set of the lesson. You can use an idiom or comical metaphor to thoroughly explain your point, or you can purposefully insert humorous items into a test or quiz. All of these examples of humor inclusion fall under the umbrella of scripted humor. This type of humor is reproducible, transferable, creditable, and almost always has a money back guarantee stamped all over it.

Then there is the other kind of humor. The more courageous, daring, witty, on the spot; spontaneous humor. This is the humor that just boils up from specific situations. It's the good stuff that you think of on the spot, at the moment where everyone had to be there to appreciate your true witty wisdom. You can't buy or organize or plan this type of humor. You just have to make it up. It could be an intriguing response to a comment, the body language that drives a point home, or great idea that just spurred up at the last moment and you took the gamble on it.

Both types of humor are needed to create a fun balance in the classroom. It is important to plan some humor into your everyday routines. I consider the scripted humor as the back up humor. I know that if I plan a fun activity, or I start off with a humorous grabber in a lesson, my basses are covered. However, it is in that moment that I make the witty remark, or use the spontaneous humor-filled example, that I truly know that I have got them ( I am talking about the students of course). They are captivated and hooked on each word. Then, I use my body language, the tone, cadence or volume of my voice to lure them in slowly to the topic of study. Before you know it, they are finding even the most mundane of topics, interesting, captivating and intriguing.

According to Barsoux (1996), "A TIMELY dash of humour quickly puts people at ease. It can serve as a way of disrupting the normally well-choreographed pattern of exchange between people of different ranks," Humor between a teacher and pupil aims to put students at ease. It is a metaphorical massage that loosens them up for the tough business of learning.

Therefore it may be the scripted humor that can be planned to grab a student's attention, but it is the timely spontaneous humor that keeps their attention and helps to develop the relationship between teacher and student.

In addition through spontaneous humor, Barsoux also explains how it can be used, "to break through that facade and find out their [the people you work with's] real concerns.' Humour therefore helps to disrupt 'scripted' exchanges, and to encourage meaningful contributions. It paves the way for more open, frank and constructive discussion." It is through a more open and frank discussion that teachers develop relationships with students, students become comfortable to have meaningful discourse with teachers, and educational topics become the path on which both and teacher and student together go exploring. This type of dynamic relationship between student and teacher is one that the great Latin American educationalist, Paulo Friere, described many times. You remember him for undergrad (the guy who said that students are not empty vessels waiting for teachers to fill up.) He spoke of the dynamic relationship that must exist between teacher and student through shared learning, in order for students (and teachers) to acquire a real education.

Supporting Barsoux's literature, Ramero and Cruthirds (2006), also supported that leaders must use humor to bring themselves down to the audiences level. Thefore, leaders are to start by laughing at themselves opening honest pathways of communications. Barsoux also reported that, "Their readiness to admit their own limitations makes them seem more human and approachable. It conveys the leader's willingness to listen, learn, and persevere." At the right moment, I spontaneously humor my students in a variety of ways. I willing joke about my own limitations (mostly in my inability to spell most 4th grade level words). I humor students about my own problems as a child with excessive talking and trips to the principal's office. I tell stories of my own struggles with my friends, coworkers (using no names of course) and parents. Through these funny stories, students start to see that I am a real person like them. We all connect at a more real level and humor is to thank for that connection.

CAUTION: Confusing, yet yummy metaphor coming up in the conclusion of this blog. 

When thinking about these types of humor, the planned and the unplanned, think of a cake. The planned humor is the cake; it is yummy, spongy and tastes great. But the spontaneous humor is the frosting; it is creamy, soft, decadent, and leaves a sweetness in your mouth that makes you yearn for more. Both types of humor are needed to bake the perfect cake. However, from the individual's point of view who consumes the cake, only one can have the lingering impact and that my friends is the frosting of spontaneous humor.


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