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Five act lesson cycle: Humor in the classroom

Jul 13, 2012

from the article by R. Casey Davis on the Ecology of Education blog:

The Bard’s plays usually end in one of two ways depending upon their particular genre of theater. In essence, disharmony is created in the audience through the characters and their actions. Through the course of the dramatic arc, resolution is achieved by the fifth and final act. Shakespeare’s two forms of resolution are based upon whether the nature of the play is tragic or comedic. For tragic works, the resolution is retributive justice. Wrongs have been avenged. Conversely, for comedic works, the resolution is restorative justice. The imbalance in the plot is corrected and the situation is set aright.

These two distinctions can be effectively implemented in the secondary classroom in a positive manner for both the students and the classroom teacher. Even retributive humor can be used effectively, even if it is of a self-deprecating nature regarding the classroom teacher. Yet, any humor, any at all, must be used cautiously and primarily by skilled and experienced practitioners. The art of humor is a steady and practiced art which both demands and commands patience, persistence, and above all humility. Attempting to implement humor of any kind into the daily learning environment or routine can very quickly and easily result in failure, sometimes even catastrophic in nature.

Surveying the two forms of humor, retributive and restorative, the latter type makes the most sense for use in the classroom. Smoothing over the tumultuous waves of a challenging, or even oppositional, situation is a proven method of maintaining control on the classroom without having to attempt to exert positional authority. These attempts almost always fail in the shortest amount of time possible. Worse yet, it corrodes and damages the tenuous relationship between the students and teacher, which is continually evolving. Humor should serve to cultivate and fortify this relationship.

Needless to say, restorative humor is instrumental in guiding the class back into focus with the daily objective(s) and easing the transition into new, and often times more difficult content knowledge and skill(s). This form of humor can also motivate reluctant and reticent students into some form of engagement with the material, the teacher, and possible even with each other through this gentle form of verbal and oral sparring.

Restorative humor can be both energizing and healing when used in appropriate and judicious manners. One of the primary mitigating factors in successfully utilizing humor in the classroom is a unique combination of student awareness and consent. This may appear like an odd pairing upon first glance, but given a Shakespearean hue and a second examination, a better understanding arises.

Read the whole article.

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