Edgy humour in the classroom: a case study of risks and rewards

Main Article Content

Mark Carver

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore the role of humour in the classroom from a learning climate perspective, allowing for greater risk and spontaneity. A case study was devised in a UK primary school where the teacher would give humour top priority in planning, without any self-censoring or limitations placed on ideas of taste or appropriateness. Such an extreme situation was made possible by opt-in participation. Evaluation was by a mixed-methods approach, drawing on video analysis of laughter responses in the class, teacher observation, and student evaluations.

 

Arguing that humour research has previously focussed too much on positivist experimental approaches at one extreme and polemic anecdotal evidence at the other, the study aimed to strike a balance and explore approaches useful to action researchers. The exploratory nature of the research was also posited on the idea that a case study in which humour use was exaggerated would help to provide a measure of transferability for practitioners wishing to experiment with humour. Humour used in the classroom is therefore categorised according to whether it is produced by the teacher or a student, related to the learning goal of the lesson, or if it could be considered potentially offensive.

 

The results indicate that an overcautious approach can limit the effectiveness of humour in the classroom. Moreover, an element of edginess can contribute to a learning climate in which students and teachers both feel more excited by the lesson, engage in spontaneous generation of content-relevant humour, and express greater ratings for satisfaction, enjoyment and perceptions of learning. Appreciation and usefulness of humour in education is presented as both supported by, and a vehicle towards, a learning climate which rewards risk and spontaneity whilst at the same time encouraging an inclusive enjoyment of the learning experience.

Article Details

Section
Case Studies
Author Biography

Mark Carver, University of Cumbria

PhD researcher sponsored by the faculty of education at the University of Cumbria, researching Assessment for Learning under the supervision of professors Sue Bloxham and Pete Boyd.

References

Banas, J. A., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez, D., & Liu, S.-J. (2011). A review of humor in educational settings: Four decades of research. Communication Education, 60(1), 115-144.

Baughman, M. D. (1979). Teaching With Humor: A Performing Art. Contemporary Education, 51(1), 26-30.

Berk, R. A. (1996). Student ratings of 10 strategies for using humor in college teaching. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 7(3), 71-92.

Borman, G. D., & Dowling, N. M. (2008). Teacher attrition and retention: A meta-analytic and narrative review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 367-409. doi: 10.3102/0034654308321455

Bryant, J., Comisky, P., & Zillmann, D. (1979). Teachers’ humor in the college classroom. Communication Education, 28(2), 110-118.

Bryant, J., Crane, J., Comisky, P., & Zillmann, D. (1980). Relationship between college teachers' use of humor in the classroom and students' evaluations of their teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72(4), 511-519.

Bryant, J., & Zillmann, D. (1989). Using humor to promote learning in the classroom. In P. McGhee (Ed.), Humor and children’s development: A guide to practical applications (pp. 49-78). New York: Haworth Press.

Camic, P. M., Rhodes, J. E., & Yardley, L. (2003). Qualitative research in psychology: Expanding perspectives in methodology and design. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Davies, A. P., & Apter, M. J. (1980). Humour and its effect on learning in children. In P. McGhee & A. Chapman (Eds.), Children's humour (pp. 237-253). Chichester: John Wiley.

Durant, J., & Miller, J. (1988). Laughing Matters: A Serious Look at Humour. Harlow: Longman.

Freud, S. (1928). Humour. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9.

Gruner, C. R. (1997). The game of humor: A comprehensive theory of why we laugh. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Hurren, B. L. (2005). Humor in School is Serious Business. International Journal of Learning, 12(6), 79-83.

Lefcourt, H. M. (2001). Humor: The psychology of living buoyantly. New York: Springer.

Lefcourt, H. M., Davidson, K., Prkachin, K. M., & Mills, D. E. (1997). Humor as a stress moderator in the prediction of blood pressure obtained during five stressful tasks. Journal of Research in Personality, 31(4), 523-542.

Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. London: Elsvier Academic Press.

Masten, A. S. (1986). Humor and competence in school-aged children. Child Development, 57(2), 461-473.

Mortiboys, A. (2005). Teaching with Emotional Intelligence: A Step-by-Step Guide. London: Routledge.

Naftulin, D. H., Ware Jr, J. E., & Donnelly, F. A. (1973). The Doctor Fox lecture: A paradigm of educational seduction. Academic Medicine, 48(7), 630.

Neath, I. (1996). How to improve your teaching evaluations without improving your teaching. Psychological Reports, 78(3c), 1363-1372.

Nilsen, A. P., & Nilsen, D. L. (1999). The straw man meets his match: Six arguments for studying humor in English classes. English Journal, 88(4), 34-42.

Ogbolu, M. N., & Abbey, A. (2012, March 9-11). Gender differences in the use of humor in teaching. Paper presented at the IABE-2012 Key West-Winter Conference, Key West, Florida.

Powell, J., & Andresen, L. (1985). Humour and teaching in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 10(1), 79-90.

Powers, T. (2005). Engaging students with humor. Association for Psychological Science Observer, 18, 12.

Ruch, W. (1993). Exhiliration and humor. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 605-616). New York: The Guilford Press.

Shatz, M. A., & LoSchiavo, F. M. (2006). Bringing life to online instruction with humor. Radical Pedagogy, 8(2), 8.

Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13 ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Teslow, J. L. (1995). Humor me: a call for research. Educational technology research and development, 43(3), 6-28.

Ulloth, J. K. (2002). The benefits of humor in nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education, 41(11), 476-481.

Wrench, J. S., & Punyanunt-Carter, N. M. (2008). The Influence of Graduate Advisor Use of Interpersonal Humor on Graduate Students. NACADA Journal, 28(1), 54-72.