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Tips For Imaginative Educators #6: Laugh As You Learn

Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
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Breaking News: 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 are powerful remedies for arteriosclerosis of the imagination. Here’s the latest.

#6 Laugh As You Learn

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: Tips for Imaginative Educators: #1 Find the Storydramatic oppositions Tips For Imaginative Educators: #2 Find A Source of Dramatic Tensionevocative mental imagery: Tips for Imaginative Educators: #3 Evoke Mental Imagery with Words and so on) are the best preventative measures we have.

Learn more about Imaginative Education and explore the many resources on the Imaginative Education Research Group website.  Make your teaching imagination—and engagement—focused today!

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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Gillian Judson (@perfinker) teaches/writes/researches in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in B.C., Canada, co-directs the Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG), and coordinates Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE) research and practice. Her work is primarily concerned with the role of imagination in all learning.  She also investigates how an ecological and imaginative approach to education can both increase students’ engagement with, and understanding of, the content of the curriculum but can show it in a light that can lead to a sophisticated ecological consciousness. 

Gillian writes on a range of educatonal topics but especially about imagination, creativity, wonder, story, and ecological/place-based teaching practices. She is author of the books Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education: Practical Strategies For Teaching (Pacific Educational Press, 2015) and A New Approach to Ecological Education:  Engaging Students’ Imaginations in Their World (New York:  Peter Lang; 2010). She most recently co-authored a book called Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. (New York: Teachers’ College Press; in press). 

She has also edited the book Teaching 360°: Effective Learning Through The Imagination (Rotterdam: Sense Publishing, 2008) and co-edited the books Engaging Imagination and Developing Creativity in Education (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press; 2015) and Wonder-Full Education:  The Centrality of Wonder (New York: Routledge; 2013).

She started a blog in 2016. Learn all about imagination-focused practices (K-post secondary) at imaginED: education that inspires.

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