Have you heard the joke about the clown, the community college student, and the college teacher?
Perhaps not. But you might want to consider telling it or something like it next time you teach a class.
Laughter, after all, really is one of the best foods for learning.
That’s what I learned today while reading Dorothy Mackeracher’s Making Sense of Adult Learning. In this second edition of this classic text on adult education, Mackeracher provides plenty of suggestions on how to effectively work with adult learners.
However, the lesson I want to tell you about is Mackeracher’s reminder that laughter makes learning more fun and, therefore, easier.
“Laughter provides a synchronous response in the two cerebral hemispheres, making learning more vivid and adding affect to whatever is being learned, thereby making it easier to remember,” she writes.
There you have it.
Sometimes it’s difficult to display humour in the classroom, especially if you are like me and teaching requires 100% focus for you. Indeed, students sometimes make funny jokes in my classroom that go right over my head because I’m so focussed on delivering the lesson at hand.
Those of us who aren’t good with off-the-cuff humour might want to plan to implant some humour beforehand. I try to do this with goofy PowerPoint images and other gestures. Students tell me in course evaluations that they appreciate the effort.
My first stumble into deliberate humour actually happened accidentally. That might sound like a contradictory statement, so please allow me to explain.
I always work with my students in Week One to develop a learning environment contract in which they and I set the ground rules for how we want to interact with one another over the semester. We talk about what we expect from one another: what they expect from me and from each other and what I should expect from them. At the end of the session, we develop a contract and everyone signs it, including me.
I developed one of these contracts in my second year of teaching a Marketing Communications course to first-year advertising students. When it came to the students’ expectations of me, among other requirements, they said they wanted me to be approachable, to arrive in class on time, to appreciate students’ different learning styles, and to have a sense of humour.
I asked them what it meant for their teacher to have a sense of humour, and one particularly boisterous young man said they’d like me to tell a Joke of the Day every day.
I’m the world’s worst joke teller. If you asked me to recall even one of the thousands I’ve heard in my lifetime, I wouldn’t be able to recite a single one. The thought of having to do something I’m really bad at every day—and in front of my students—terrified me. With only one year of teaching under my belt, I still experienced nervous tremors every time I stepped into a classroom.Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge and we wrote The Joke of the Day into that year’s learning environment contract. And every day, I started class with a joke. The jokes I sought out and recited were always harmless ditties about college students or teachers.
I never told them well. But most of them were funny. And most of the students laughed most of the time.
More than anything, they appreciated my fulfillment of the contract and they appreciated my effort.
Did I mention that they laughed? It was a great way to set the stage for learning—on a humorous note.
Indeed, we had some fun together that semester.
And we all learned a few things, too.