Tips for Imaginative Educators: #5 Laugh As You Learn

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Without suitable pedagogical intervention, more learners will suffer from a very serious condition called arteriosclerosis of the imagination.  This often debilitating condition is marked by limited flexibility of thought, an undeveloped sense of wonder, and a reduced ability to envision the possible in all learning.

The primary cause?  Rigid and restrictive learning processes and environments that exclude students’ emotional engagement and that include out-dated conceptions of how human beings actually learn.

Imagination-focused pedagogy is the topic of this Tools of Imagination Series.  Our Tips for Imaginative Educators describe, with examples, particular tools of one of the great workhorses of all learning in all subject areas:  the imagination.  (Not convinced imagination is crucial for what you teach or for your students?  You might like to read Imagination Misunderstood.)

Tools of Imagination series #imaginED

Tip # 5: Joking and humour are not frills or a waste of your precious pedagogical time.  Beyond adding pleasure to the learning process, joking and humour are cognitive tools that can help make whatever knowledge you are teaching more meaningful to your students. For example, we can use formal jokes to draw attention to particular aspects of language and, thus, support literacy development. Jokes reflect the beginning of meta-linguistic awareness; through jokes we see language not just as a behaviour (which it is within an oral language context only) but also as an object. Formal jokes can broaden understanding by revealing subtleties in historical, scientific, mathematical or other topics.  You will already know the power of political cartoons and satire, for older students for example, as a means to point to deeper meaning in topics.  Jokes tie up emotions with knowledge:  this is what makes knowledge meaningful.  Don’t stop with teaching:  student generation of their own cartoons or jokes to reveal their understanding of topics can be an effective assessment tool for all educators.  Ultimately, a general acknowledgement of the humour within topics we are teaching–when appropriate–is important for developing flexibility in thought that underlies more sophisticated understanding.

Fine. “Arteriosclerosis of the imagination” may not be formally acknowledged by our top medical doctors.  But I think we too often see the symptoms.

When we face boredom in classrooms, students who are disaffected and dread school, and, more profoundly, adults who seem unable to think critically and flexibly about theories and particular points of view, we are experiencing this “disease”.  Joking and humour, in conjunction with the other tools of imagination (e.g. the story-form, dramatic oppositions, evocative mental imagery and so on) are the best preventative measures we have.

Here’s a quick video in which Caitlyn James and Kieran Egan talk about the pedagogical value of humour for learning.  Enjoy!

Learn more about Imaginative Education and explore the many resources on the Imaginative Education Research Group website. Please LEAVE A COMMENT below.  Share a subject-specific joke or something you do with your students to engage their sense of humour.

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