Thomas Bernhard once said, “Whoever can’t laugh doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously,” a thought that would benefit from being given more consideration in teaching, even though humour has not yet received the attention it deserves. However, several studies*, mainly from the field of psychology rather than the educational sciences, have shown that humour helps to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, that it attracts the attention of learners, in addition to stimulating their creativity and motivation.
However, for this form of humour to become a useful pedagogical tool in the classroom as well as in elearning, a few precautions must be taken. Here are three tips to help you incorporate humour into your teaching without a misstep.
In a classroom, in a face-to-face or online environment, the humorous expression can take various forms, whether it is a personal communication style, a pun, an anecdote, a comic text, a video situation or an image (photo, cartoon, comic strip, etc.).
1. Stay yourself
Not all of us are born comedians and knowing how to make people laugh is not an essential skill for teaching. So if you’re uncomfortable using humour, pass! That said, people with no sense of humour are pretty rare, and chances are you enjoy it in your own way and use the opportunity to make your learners smile. The goal is to have fun, so don’t put pressure on yourself to “perform” and trust yourself instead.
2. Never without caring
Any humorous act coming from the teacher should be benevolent and never directed at a learner. It has been shown that when it comes to humour in the classroom, one should avoid entering into the spectrum of mockery, sarcasm, irony or so-called malignant joy. On the other hand, it is better to favour “neutral” humour by avoiding humour dealing with taboo or sensitive subjects that could create embarrassing situations or a sense of injustice in the classroom.
3. The right dose
Humour can serve pedagogy just as it can, on the contrary, hinder it. Although there is little empirical research on the subject, the following recommendations are more specific: use humour only to highlight key concepts**; avoid excess by limiting yourself to 3 or 4 examples of humour per hour**; do not use humour before or during an exam, as it may disturb more anxious learners**; and finally, adjust the degree of humour used according to the situation.
*Foll, 2007; Garner, 2005; Guégan, 2008; Ziv, 1979; Rißland and Gruntz-Stoll, 2009.
**Findings of Avner Ziv, a Tel Aviv psychology professor who was one of the first to attempt to address the lack of empirical studies on the pedagogical effectiveness of humour.