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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.
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