HUMOUR, used appropriately, helps teachers to break the ice and develop better rapport with students.
Lazarus Ndiku Makewa and his colleagues in their study published in the International Journal of Education (Vol. 3, No. 2, 2011) concluded that those who use humour to teach are generally rated as effective in terms of motivation, creation of engaging lessons and anxiety reduction in students.
The authors added that such teachers are also considered successful at stimulating thought and interest in students, and fostering a positive teacher-student relationship.
Humour is ubiquitous and is a complex phenomenon. "Humour may be defined as the kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life and the artistic expression thereof.
"I think this is the best (definition) because I wrote it myself," stated Stephen B. Leacock, a Canadian teacher, political scientist, writer and humorist (1869-1944).
Humour allows the expression of ideas which would otherwise be rejected, criticised or censored, argued Avner Ziv and Orit Gadish (1990) in their article The Disinhibiting Effects of Humour: Aggressive and Affective Responses published in the journal Humor: The International Journal of Humor Research.
The biological notion is to view the use of jokes as a primitive way to reduce stress. Laughter induces a feeling of well-being and euphoria. However, every incident resulting in laughter is not necessarily humour. Other stimuli such as tickling or embarrassment may also induce laughter.
John B. Ziegler in his article Use of Humour in Medical Teaching published in Medical Teacher (Vol. 20, No. 4, 1998) argues that a better definition may refer to stimuli and responses: humour is communication (written, verbal, drawn or otherwise displayed) including teasing, jokes, witticisms, satire, sarcasm, cartoons, puns, clowning which induces (or is intended to induce) amusement, with or without laughing or smiling.
Freud's psychoanalytical view perceived humour as a response to stress with release of psychic energy, which results in anxiety reduction.
He took humour as a means of making a comment while avoiding censorship and recognised it as tensions induced by society.
The sociological approach views laughter as a vehicle to integrate an individual into a group, concluded Vera M. Robinson in the second edition of her book Humor and Health Professions (1991).
Humour is also a powerful tool to make social and political comments. Victor Borge, a Danish comedian, conductor and pianist, affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Denmark, put it aptly as "humour is the shortest distance between two people".
Although the word "humour" does not appear in the index of many textbooks, it appears to be widely used in education.
Ziegler (1998) provides the following explanation for the mechanism by which humour may facilitate the learning process: "Modern educational theory highlights the importance of interactivity, involvement of the audience who should be stimulated to think and to learn and whose reactions should affect the conduct of the teaching.
"When a teacher uses humour and is able to stimulate the students to laugh or smile then at least to that extent the teacher knows that the students have been engaged.
"They must have been listening and, to get the joke, been engaged with the material being presented. Their response to the humour would thus provide positive feedback to the teacher. The students must consider themselves to have been engaged to some extent.
"In a large group of students, only a minority will interact verbally with the teacher. Even in small groups, there will inevitably be some students who are not actively engaged by the teacher. Yet humour can allow all the students to repeatedly interact with the teacher, albeit not necessarily verbally."
Randy Garner (http://redicalpedagogy.icaap.org/content/issue6_2/garner.html) quotes Robert E. Glenn's work to explain the physiological role of humour in learning. Glenn (2002), the founder and publisher of Teaching for Excellence, explains that humour helps to connect left brain activities with the right brained creative side.
This connection may allow students to experience a "refreshing pause" and better assimilate the information presented.
In Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins offers that humour can reduce anxiety, help relieve stress and increase mental sharpness -- characteristics that can improve learning and are desirable in a pedagogical setting.
The use of humour as a teaching aid promotes understanding, holds students' attention, creates a positive atmosphere, dispels anxiety and fear, reduces hesitation to question the teacher, enlivens curiosity and interest towards learning, controls rebellious and disruptive behaviour and encourages a healthy teacher-student relationship, wrote Gaurav Verma of Dr L. Bullayya College, India (www.thehindu.com/thehindu/edu/2007/07/16/stories/2007071651020400.htm).
The best time for humour is always when you or your students least expect it. Both planned and spontaneous humour promotes a better learning environment.
However, Ziv (1998) states that irrelevant humour has negative effects. Discriminative or racist humour might distract students from the subject matter; it might irritate them.
This is a serious matter. I am not joking!