Thursday, April 18, 2013

Using Humour as a Teaching Tool

"You're a comedian?......tell me a joke! That is a line I have consistently heard over the 26 years that I have worked as a comedian. Despite the crippling 1/2 hour days, it's a rewarding job because you get to bring laughter to people and are constantly creating new ideas, but ironically, rarely are there any "jokes". There are many other things that bring amusement and laughter: stories, concepts, wordplay, sarcasm, exaggeration, body language, facial expression, but for most comedians, it's seldom "jokes". This is interesting because it points out just how little we understand about the mechanics of humour. For decades I have been taking it apart like a watch and examining all its giggling bits and it has been a fascinating process.

 It has also been a process that has been extremely valuable in the communication skills and public speaker training I do. One of the reasons that I was hired on to coach the Coca Cola Olympic Torch and Olympic Site teams in 2010 was the natural match between humour and their catch phrase "Open Happiness". Humour helps to grab people's attention, hold their attention, introduce novel concepts and leave them wanting more. It is a form of communication that lends itself beautifully to teaching and at the moment I am very interested in exploring that relationship. I want to hear stories from teachers, coaches and managers about how they have used humour effectively (or ineffectively) while giving instruction to their groups, teams or classes.

 Humour is a uniquely human process, a universal aspect of our ability to communicate that predates the spoken word. The health and social benefits of laughter and smiling, the creation of a relaxed cooperative classroom environment, the decline in authoritarian teaching methods, the ability to increase student engagement and the positive framing of the educational experience effected by humour are all well documented but there are less considered points that are of great practical value:

 1 - Humour began as a system that enabled human beings to become aware of breaks in patterns. At
it's root it is a pattern recognition system that helps us to organize our world. Fuelled by the psychological, physiological and social rewards of laughter and smiling it solidified itself as a cornerstone in the the development of our processes of learning.

 2 - While humour predates speech and the written word, it adapted to them and became a method of examination and criticism. Humour functions, deliberately or accidentally, as commentary. To look at something in a "funny" way, is to look at it from a different perspective. Humour reframes our outlook on a subject and, as a result, gives us a broader and more complete understanding.

 3 - Humour does not reside entirely in "jokes" and does not have to be a distraction or diversion from the subject being taught. It should, instead, be combined with the subject and used as a tool of examination and understanding that has the added benefits of engaging students and making information more memorable.

 4 - Humour has the potential to be instructive on the subject of emotional intelligence. To begin with, the teacher is put in a position where they have to learn to empathize with the students in order to utilize humour effectively. The assorted psychological motivators in aggressive, racist, sexist etc, humour are also more easily understood when humour's fundamental mechanisms are taught because the students are able to see the different reasons why people think of something as "funny".

 The roots of humour have a fundamental relationship it has with communication, bonding, and the organization of knowledge. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the nature, functions, and methods of humour educators can create a more positive, productive and progressive learning environment.

So let me hear your stories!!! I would love to hear how you have used or seen humour used by others as a tool in instruction. Real life examples of the connection between HAHA! and AHA!. Comedy as revelation and revealer, as the ultimate trickster teacher. Please do pass this along to as many people as you can who you feel might be inclined to contribute.

A million tiny thanks.........Christopher

Christopher MolineuxHumour Expert / Coach /

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