Laughing All The Way|
by Kim Tracy
If there is any advice from my parents that I pass on to my students continuously, it is "Laughter is the best medicine." Not only does laughter make for an icebreaker, it can also completely change the state of mind that a student is in at the moment. Creating a learning environment that contains not only the curriculum that needs to be taught and is mandated, but also builds a trusting and creative atmosphere between the teacher and student.
Why does learning need to be rigid? Often educators remark that bringing a sense of fun into the classroom will only teach the students not to take learning seriously. Quite the opposite will occur. Humor in the classroom will foster youngsters who feel at ease in the classroom, therefore opening themselves up for a more conducive and productive learning experience. Using humor to unleash an otherwise stressful situation is a part of the history of our world.
During the first century, Roman poet Martial stated, "Laugh if you are wise." Court jesters were first introduced in the early 1200's. Court Jesters sang, dance, did imitations, and often recited wordplays. Medieval jesters provided humor during tense situations. Jesters of Ancient China provided wisdom and humor when the King became angry. Kings across history have often relied on jesters to bring about humor in order to help think more clearly in situations and to reduce the pressures of life. German physician, Christopher Hufeland was quoted with acknowledging the use of laughter in our lives by saying, "Laughter is a most healthful exertion; it is one of the greatest helps to digestion which I am acquainted; and the custom prevalent among our forefathers, of exciting it at table by jesters and buffoons, was founded on true medical principles." Understanding that history of jesters helps educators understand the link more clearly between a productive learning environment and the use of humor.
Teaching is without question one of the most challenging professions. Students come to us with all sorts of emotional problems and environmental issues. One often wonders how to find laughter and humor in an overcrowded classroom with discipline problems at every turn. When educators step out of that rigid box that allows no humor, we will find a class filled with students that are ready to embark on any aspect of learning with no barriers. Creating an inviting, humorous classroom is not difficult!
Use upbeat music as students are walking in the class or engaging in serious thinking time. Often I will pose a higher order-thinking question to my students, only to be dismayed by the blank stares that it imposes. However, by simply turning on the Jeopardy theme midi that I downloaded from the Internet, immediately jumpstarts the thinking process for the students and hands shoot up in the air as students rush to provide thought provoking answers. At times, I have played the theme to "Rocky" or "We Will Rock You" and students begin to be inspired by the lightness of using that strategy.
I use a positive graffiti board in my classroom. Students can add positive messages and mottos during the morning or during free times. On a makeshift board, butcher paper on the back of a door, we hang newspaper articles or awards that the students or school have received. Students take pride in this area and search the newspaper for positive articles dealing with education to include on this board.
My students never know who is going to show up to teach in their room! I dressed up one day in a detective outfit that I pulled together from odds and ends from my closet. Complete with a safari hat and a magnifying glass, my "sub" that day was Detective Shin; Frac was my first name. All day we searched for how we used fractions in the class and around the school. Students were eager to learn about fractions and pushed their own limitations. Another day, not to be outdone by Detective Shin, Professor Mal showed up to sub! Needless to say, Professor Deci Mal worked on decimals all day with the students. My students have become accustomed to having "subs" in the class and handle it quite appropriately. At first, it took training and molding them to think creatively as I transformed into a different person.
Introduce games to review concepts that have been learned in class. Sparring off the new television show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, teams are formed to answer questions. Complete with lifelines of asking other team members, using the textbook and using notes, students always make sure they have kept up to date on their studies because they never know when we are going to play this game. Another way to review is to have two students pair up. One student will ask a review question, and the other writes the answer invisibly using his/her finger on the back of the person asking. Pair up same sex partners when doing this with older students. Like doing the alphabet on the backs when we were youngsters, this review game often produces loads of laughter while still learning.
Tap into the talents of your students. Use that class clown to come up with a parody of the concept you are learning. Use those students that constantly tap on the desk to develop a song with your topic. I set up learning centers to learn about the different states in a region. One group was assigned to research the crops of a certain state and compose a song. I was quite impressed when my fifth graders made their own costumes out of bulletin board paper and dressed as potatoes. This was not even part of the requirement but they stretched their imaginations and produced high quality work. Their song turned out to be a rap and included more information regarding crops and seasonal growing then I had ever expected. The laughter that this caused was long remembered and the test scores on that section were high.
If you have access to a digital camera, use it to take pictures throughout the day. Print them out in black and white and post them around the room or school. Students love to see their faces in print and this will bring numerous smiles among your students. At the high school level, use a regular camera if you do not have access to the digital camera, and ask your newspaper staff to develop the pictures for you if there is a darkroom. Again, use your resources around your school.
What strategies can you use to make your classroom more fun and more productive? It provides a healthy, brain-stimulating environment to add laughter to your classroom. James Thurber wrote, "Humor is our greatest national resource, which must be preserved at all costs." Learning can be filled with content and can be fun. Fill your classroom with the sounds of laughter, and fill the students' heads with the knowledge they need to possess.
About Kim Tracy...
Kim Tracy is a fifth grade teacher living in North Carolina. After extensive research and training, Kim has become a Brain Compatible Learning specialist and has conducted staff development workshops in the Southeast area. Kim has been involved in other staff development by facilitating Active Learning in the Classroom workshops, Writing workshops, and Test Scoring workshops, as well as teaching computer skills to educators in her county. As a successful grant writer, Kim is currently in the process of developing successful grant writing packets for educators.
Kim received her BA in Elementary Education from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in North Carolina and her MA in Education from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Kim thrives on teaching other educators about Brain Compatible Learning because she has seen the successes of the strategies in her classroom. Educators seeking advice with implementing BCL strategies can email Ms. Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.