Some people are just naturally funny. I am not so fortunate. I enjoy a good laugh as much as the next person, but I can’t tell a joke well if my life depends upon it. Somehow I always manage to get to the punchline before finishing the story.
Given this decided lack of talent, Marzano’s recommendation that one use humor to increase student engagement (in The Highly Engaged Classroom) fell a little flat with me. I tried out a lot of the other recommended strategies and really liked the impact they had. Unfortunately, this made it hard for me to shunt aside the whole humor thing. It just sat there, nagging at me kind of like my mom nagging me to do something that was good for me.
Finally, I decided to take a baby step. I started collecting cartoons from the comics that related to math or life in middle school and posting them in class. I tried to put up different ones that somehow related to the work we were doing in class. My students seemed to like them and they were a good conversation starter. I’m not sure that I could say I was effectively using humor to increase engagement in a lesson, but I was building relationships.
This year, I decided to try to take the next step. A friend had given me Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, which is full of math jokes and puns. I decided to post a new joke or pun or riddle on the board each week. If I could find one that related to our content, I used that. If not, I just picked one that I thought the kids would like. My students really seemed to like it. They looked forward to the changing of the joke each week. They even started asking if I would post one of their jokes.
Did this increase engagement? I don’t know. I do know that it helped to build relationships with students. Laughing with them about silly things helped to make my classroom a happy, safe space for them. I do know that is essential if I want my students to take academic risks. I also know that it changes the way that I see my students, which makes me a better teacher. So, for me, laughter really is the best medicine.