Why April Fools are Definitely Not Foolish

By Peggy Wuenstel — It is often said that teaching requires a sense of humor, and my personal experience has certainly borne that out. The willingness to be silly, to see the funny side of life, and to sometimes be the butt of the joke goes a long way to enhance the experience for both teacher and learner. Those activities that produce giggles, chuckles, or full-out belly laughs are likely to be remembered and increase the probability that student participation will be more active and outcomes will be positive. Both neurological studies of the brain’s response to humor and market research done by the advertising industry bear this out. The creators of the Super Bowl commercials are certainly banking on our memory and retrieval response to humorous ads and their impact on product name recognition.

Humor is also a way of encouraging the important skill of “thinking outside the box”. A slightly skewed view of the world can result in wry observations and a new level of understanding. It helps young children hear the similarities in words at the same time they learn to distinguish the specific differences. A kindergartener in our school recently enthusiastically thanked her teacher for the delicious “”graham crappers and milk” served for the after recess snack.

That smile producing comment was shared with our entire staff via e-mail, producing a shared experience and a springboard for a teachers’ lounge discussion. Did you hear the one about…? is often a communal event. I encourage new educators to keep a “Smile File” either electronically or in print to remind them of the pearls that come from the mouths of the “babes” in their classrooms. How wonderful to experience that connection with a colleague that comes when you must avoid eye contact after a particularly hilarious comment from a student. A young man of Mexican descent was reviewing a pie chart with me that represented the ethnic make-up of Wisconsin’s population. We discussed the nations of origin for African-American, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans. His very genuine questions “I’m Hispanic? Does my mom know that?”produced one of those moments for me a few years back.

But as anyone who has tried to remember and deliver the punch line to a complicated joke knows, humor is not easy. Those performers we admire have that blend of wry observational skills, smooth delivery and impeccable timing that allow us to share in the joke.  Whether Jerry Seinfeld’s gentle musings, Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck observations, Robin Williams’ manic monologues, or  edgier rants are your preference, these top comics are praised for their quick wit, understanding of human nature and facility with language, all skills that they share with master teachers.

Social competence is often evaluated by the ability to use and appreciate humor. The nuance required in comprehending puns, finding the smile in a clever turn of phrase or a play on words, or understanding inferential language is one of the ways we assess student comprehension and vocabulary.  Constructing jokes and riddles is an alternative task that can assess student skills in a very interactive way. Games, skits, and performance art that allow students to shine bolster self-esteem, create bonding opportunities, and lighten the classroom mood. We can also teach lessons about propriety, respect, appropriate language choice, and cultural sensitivity by incorporating and explaining humor.  And above all, it’s just plain, fun! We could all use a bit more of that these days.

So what’s the comedy challenged teacher to do?
Dr. Peter Jonas provided the following recipe for injecting some fun into our classroom lives, for both the instructor and the student.

  1. Develop a database of jokes, stories, sayings, puns, and material and keep them where you can access them
  2. “Steal” your information from movies, TV, the internet, and funny friends (you can always credit when you know the original source, but that is often hard to determine)
  3. Always look for connections with your material (vocabulary, setting, cast of characters)
  4. Plan your jokes – but look spontaneous- (The very best comedians rehearse a lot, even dealing with hecklers)
  5. Collect, label and categorize your files or clips
  6. Keep track of the reactions to your material – not everything works equally well
  7. Some of the funniest things to discuss come from reality. Keep your eyes and ears open for these in the classroom.
  8. Humor is contagious! Let it happen. Encourage it. But also help students know the limits of propriety and when to say when.
  9. Just Do It. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Humor is a muscle that must be developed. Even the naturally funny person needs work to relate effectively to an audience
  10. Be smart, respectful, mindful of the audience and the situation. This can be an important lesson in tolerance.

So, for the day on which we celebrate and engage in the art of the practical joke, I offer this pearl. Why are we always so tired at the beginning of April?  We’ve just finished a 31 day March. And hopefully we’ve been laughing all the way.

2 Responses to “Why April Fools are Definitely Not Foolish”

  1. 1 billhenk April 3, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Thanks for a very thoughtful, entertaining, and useful post about humor in the classroom, Peggy. Of course, now we all want to learn more about what you have in your “Smile File.”



  2. 2 ethical paper bags April 11, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Great things here, efficiently shown and to the point.


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