Does making your students laugh improve how much attention they pay in class? Do jokes help or hinder learning?
A recent study found positive results for using humour as part of lessons. So, what did they find and what are the teaching implications for teachers telling jokes?
Positive Effects of Humour
Increases Student’s Attention to Study Material
Recent research which investigated the use of teacher humour found that over 88% of students reported paying more attention in class. A separate study also found similar results for when teachers inserted light-hearted jokes as part of their feedback, with these students being more engaged with the material.
Improves Teacher Relatability
There is also evidence that using humour in class made teachers more relatable to their students. This is important for teachers, as it increases the likelihood that their students will listen and learn from them. When a student can relate to their teacher, they are more likely to view the lesson’s content as information worth learning, because the teacher they have a relationship with thinks so.
Improves Sense of Belonging
Another finding from the study mentioned earlier was that, if teachers used humour in their lessons, 80% of their students reported feeling an enhanced sense of belonging. It is a very important thing to improve, as it increases student retention and grades, particularly amongst struggling students.
For example, one study found that when researchers were able to remove the belief that females have less ability in maths, female students’ sense of belonging improved, which in turn increased their maths grades.
How to Use Humour in the Classroom
Don’t Try Too Hard to be Funny
There is nothing worse than someone who is not funny trying to be. Humour used in the classroom needs to correspond with the teacher’s personality type; no-one should try to be someone they are not. Humour can be an effective tool, but it is not the only one.
Avoid Negative or Hostile Humour
Before using humour, teachers need to carefully consider its impact. They need to avoid humour that isolates students from the teacher or the class, or that belittles students when they fail to understand material.
Inappropriate humour can have a negative impact on student wellbeing such that it can create fear, anxiety and even hostility in the classroom. Offensive humour can also reduce student’s attention to study material by increasing cognitive load, meaning that students can store less of the relevant content they are learning about in the long-term memory.
Furthermore, teacher-student relationships may be harmed through inappropriate humour. It therefore pays dividends to carefully consider both the context and nature of the joke.
Appropriate to the Audience
Teachers need to ensure that the humour they use is appropriate for the age of their audience. Younger students are more likely to struggle to understand irony, exaggerations, or distortions (devices commonly used in humour). Teachers need to also ensure they do not overuse humour, as this may lead to students perceiving them as less knowledgeable or credible. Teaching is not a popularity contest, and teaching the content at hand must always take priority.
Research has shown that the majority of students appreciate teachers using humour in the classroom. It has the power to positively change the classroom environment, improve student experiences and enhance the relationship between students and their teacher. However, if teachers use humour, they need to ensure that it does not devalue the educational content of their lessons and is applicable to their audience.