How important is your sense of humor in the classroom?

CSU eliminated “Instructor has a sense of humor” from student evaluations several years ago, but here’s an interesting post from Maryellen Weimer’s Faculty Focus blog. Weimer summarizes the study this way:

…[T]he researchers begin by suggesting that teachers use humor that fits comfortably with who they are and how they teach. They point out that humor is not a necessary ingredient of effective instruction and that few things are worse than people trying to be funny when they aren’t. They suggest if an instructor doesn’t use humor but would like to accrue its benefits in class, the instructor should use the humor of others—by sharing cartoons, comics, or video clips.

Second, they reiterate the findings that humor is related to positive perceptions of the instructor and the learning environment and advise again against the use of humor that is negative or hostile. “Teachers should utilize humor that laughs with students rather than at them.” (p. 136)

Finally, if the goal is to use humor to increase learning and retention of course material, then use the humor to illustrate a concept just taught. This way, the humor helps students remember the material, and material can’t be learned unless it is remembered. And one thing about humor and learning is well-supported by the research: Humor positively affects levels of attention and interest. It’s a way to keep students engaged and involved with the course material.

Read the full post here: Humor in the Classroom: 40 Years of Research

What do you think about the uses of humor? Has your sense of humor helped or hurt your effectiveness in the classroom?


One thought on “How important is your sense of humor in the classroom?

  1. Katherine Gray says:

    The sentence in that article that really caught me was this one: “As for the advice offered educators based on the review, the researchers begin by suggesting that teachers use humor that fits comfortably with who they are and how they teach.”

    One of my biggest goals for students is that they learn to communicate with a faculty member, to see them not as an enemy but as a resource, a helper, a facilitator for their learning. In this sense, I find that I’m often using self-deprecating humor in the classroom- I tell stories about silly or funny things that I’ve done or said in order to remind my students that underneath the teacher hat is a literal, real person that you can reach out and talk to and relate to. I feel that encourages them to communicate with me more comfortably, whether in a one-on-one or group setting. It’s really important to me that I get student feedback about what I’m doing, so facilitating free and easy communication becomes a HUGE part of that. Humor is only one way I make that happen, but I find it a useful tool.

    I also find it useful to teach difficult concepts using humor. For example, when teaching students what logical fallacies are, they tend not to jump up and down with joy and excitement at the topic. I used to just lecture straight to them and explain using very scholarly and rhetorical terms… and they either fell asleep or looked at me like I was speaking Martian. My tactic was to begin incorporating humorous examples of the logical fallacies- they laugh, which means they’re actually paying attention enough to get the jokes. If I keep them on their toes by first explaining the fallacy in general terms and then using a real life or humorous example, it aids me in teaching this content, which I had real difficulty with at the beginning of my teaching career.

    So in other words, I don’t think humor is for everything, or for everyone, but I have managed to make it useful in my own classroom practice- and intend to keep doing so.

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