Why we need humour

Vaibhav Devanathan

Humour is an essential part of classroom learning. It can be likened to a catalyst in many ways – it increases the rate of learning, it provides a more favourable atmosphere for learning to happen, it has multiple benefits. Here are a few reasons why humour is an essential tool for teachers to master today.

We listen to friends, but not to enemies
Friends can convince us to play when we’re supposed to study. Friends can pressure us into changing our likes and dislikes. Friends can help change our minds. The bottom line is that we listen to friends and value their opinions.

On the other hand, if someone with whom we share a hostile relationship tells us to do something, odds are that we will do the exact opposite. Think about it – when was the last time you agreed wholeheartedly with a figure of authority?

Hence, it is of great value for a teacher to position himself/herself as a friend in the classroom, and the quickest way to do that is to show them that you can be funny – given that a large part of the friend experience involves laughing at each other’s jokes. It is easy to be an influencer when one is also a friend.

Humour puts people at ease
Think of a typical child in a classroom. There are many sources of tension that this child has to face daily: deliverables are strictly enforced, penalties are feared, exams are an ever-present source of worry, teachers are seen as figures of authority, and there is peer pressure. It is hard to be at one’s best in a state of tension. And what better way to relieve some of this tension than a sprinkling of humour?

Humour helps in learning
Multiple researchers (Chiasson, Berk, Tan, Napier, and Elby) have talked about how humour acts as a strong retrieval cue (thereby impacting memory positively) and about how the creation of a more pleasant social climate in the classroom can positively impact learning outcomes for all stakeholders – students and teachers. The research is unambiguous – humour is serious business, when it comes to education.

It’s not that hard
Many people might think that being funny in the classroom might be desirable but impossible, that you can’t learn how to be funny. However, they are missing an important point, that humour is not all about delivering 100 one-liners in a minute. A huge part of humour is just creating an atmosphere where people are relaxed and are able to be themselves. A constant smile and a positive demeanour can make this happen.

In addition, humour is largely contextual. Everyone is a stand-up comedian when with their friends. If everyone is happy and relaxed in a classroom, there will be laughter even at statements that are, on the face of them, not funny.

It is a proven success
All of us have a few favourite teachers from our childhood. It is no coincidence that many of the best teachers are also those that were most friendly with us, who laughed with us instead of at us.

So what are your reasons for being funny in the classroom?

The author is founder at LaughGuru (http://laughguru.com), a company that uses humour in education for children in schools. He is an alumnus of IIT Bombay, where he was awarded the SD Sharma Gold Medal for Best All-rounder in the graduating batch of 2010. He can be reached at vaibhav@laughguru.com.

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