How English teachers use humor in the classroom

Jeanie Marklin says she did not crack a smile until Christmas during her first year teaching high school English in North Carolina. And, she certainly didn’t crack a joke.

Convinced that a few laughs could have improved her teaching, the Wake Forest University graduate student conducted a study of how English teachers use humor in the classroom.

“I’m interested in making the classroom more inviting,” says Marklin. Using humor in the right ways can help, she says.

Marklin, who will earn a master’s degree in education in August, observed six North Carolina high school English teachers to find out how they used humor in the classroom. The teachers were not aware of what she was evaluating until after she had observed each class eight times, carefully noting any use of humor by each teacher.

Funny anecdotes got the most laughs from students, said Marklin, who taught for four years before entering graduate school. And, they seemed the most effective form of humor to help teachers establish rapport with students.

She also looked at other forms of humor, including puns, self-deprecating comments, and sarcasm/wit.

Some teachers effectively used sarcasm or wit as a disciplinary tool. Poking fun
in a light-hearted way sometimes helped teachers avoid the need for taking other disciplinary action. But, teachers can go overboard. One teacher verbally attacked some students in the name of ‘wit,” Marklin said.

“She wasn’t funny and the kids were obviously offended,” she said.

Most puns, although the teachers often thought they were funny, made the students groan, she said.

When Marklin completed her observations, she asked the teachers to assess how often they used humor and what types of humor they used.

“There was a significant discrepancy between the teachers’ perceptions of the various forms of humor being used in the classroom and the humor they actually used,” she said. Most of the teachers in the study felt they used lighter forms of humor such as puns and anecdotes most frequently, Marklin said. But, they actually used wit and sarcasm twice as often as what she calls the “lighter” forms of humor.

Marklin also found that teachers thought they used humor more often then they actually did.

Categories: Community, Recognition, Student