GUEST BLOG: There is little success where there is little laughter. Writing jokes by Bee Hendry

‘What do you call a boomerang that just won’t come back? A stick!’

I grinned around the room. I heard a low rumble of faint mirth from my bemused teaching assistants. Blank looks from everyone else in my Year 1/2 class.

‘It’s a joke! Today is Comic Relief!’

‘I thought jokes were funny Miss Hendry.’

Well, clearly my humour was too subtle for these children. We moved on.

Break time became the dreaded indoor play as the rain lashed against the windows. One of my Year 2 children had decided to share her best jokes…which were clearly better than mine.

‘What do you call a gorilla wearing headphones? Anything you like! He can’t hear you!’ The jokes were spreading and the children were laughing. All except one.

She came towards me. She speaks good English herself but only hears Japanese at home.

‘What is a joke? What is she saying?’ On one hand, I was rather taken aback by the question. I had wrongly assumed that my children knew what jokes were about! On the other hand, with such a high level of EAL children in the class, how could I not expect it? Many jokes cannot be understood across cultures because they don’t translate well. Jokes rely on puns, play on words, synonyms, homonyms and many other language play techniques.

I quickly discussed the change of plan with my teaching assistants. Down with the scheme of work for today. Up with joke writing! Child led, relevant and fun!

We started by reading different jokes, deciding what made them funny and how they worked. Children then had time to come up with a joke of their own. Knock, knock jokes were a favourite and most revolved around animals, Doctor Who, or poo.

But who would we make laugh? Jokes are meant to bring pleasure and spread a smile. The children decided they wanted to share their jokes with the local community. As parents and carers came to collect their children from school, they could be entertained by some not-so-subtle humour!

The children felt totally empowered at the thought of making people laugh. We talked about what a wonderful feeling it is to see someone smile and laugh and know that we have made that happen.

The class wrote their jokes on whiteboards. Some drew pictures underneath. They tried them out on each other and laughed at their own attempts. Some wanted to share old favourites too.

We photocopied, laminated and tied them to the posts outside the school. As children left at the end of the day they read their jokes aloud, turning to their parents to see the smiles they had hoped for. More pleasurable than the smiles on the parents’ faces though were those of the children and their pride at spreading cheer amongst the community. The children who had previously been unsure of jokes were explaining them to their foreign language speaking adults.

It is clear that too often, we place more importance on checklists of skills or word banks of spellings to teach the children, and that sometimes we miss what is truly important to them…communicating purposefully and engaging those around them in something they have learnt, taken pride in achieving, or purely enjoyed. Making connections with people through laughter.

I learnt clear lessons from my interactions with the children that day. I made an assumption which could have led to a missed opportunity of relevant learning. We must, as practitioners, be flexible to the needs of the children, putting their needs at the centre of what we do…even if it means going ‘off timetable’.

I saw children working together, teaching each other the skills of humour and the art of story telling. I even saw children laughing at attempts at jokes which were far from funny just to reward the joke teller with that feeling of accomplishment.

My class had achieved what they had set out to and, at the same time, practised those many checklists of skills we teachers are under pressure to tick off. I for one can think of far worse ways than ending the day amidst laughter and smiles.

‘There is little success where there is little laughter.’ Andrew Carnegie

This article was written by @BeeHendry

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