Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Anything for a Laugh

If you look at this picture quickly, you'll probably just see two loving brothers completely consumed by playing Portal (and yes, it is Stephen's mission to convert everyone to the wonders of this game). If you look again and look closely, you'll notice that I'm wearing this shirt. Stephen and Misty gave it to me for my birthday last year and I've had several good laughs about it, especially when I wear it around friends who don't know me and my sense of humor well enough to say anything. They just stare, and then start to speak, stop themselves, and then stare some more. Keep the shirt in mind for later in the post.

When I was in graduate school, my adviser worked closely with me to develop teaching skills. One semester when I was his TA, I filled in for his class while he watched. Afterwards, as he was giving me a critique of my teaching, he casually mentioned a formula that he's used to great success in his teaching: 50 seconds of laughter = 50 minutes of attention. At first I laughed his idea off, but as I've done more training as a teacher, I've discovered just how spot on his formula actually is. Most researching into teaching and learning tells us that we need to reset our students every 20 minutes or so - switch tasks, have them participate, shake things up a bit - or you'll lose them for the last 30 minutes of class. Since most of my classes are 1 hour, 15 minutes long, I have to push the reset button a number of times each class.

Teaching music, pushing that reset button isn't terribly difficult. At least every 15 minutes I'm playing a new piece of music, and I always have my students react to that music either verbally or through writing to engage their ears as well as their minds. But even with those switches, I've discovered that one bit of humor goes a long way to snapping the students back to attention.

Enter the shirt. Yesterday in my undergraduate music history class, I reached Mozart. I always show a scene from Amadeus and discuss how our society has created and recreated Mozart through generations. This year, I had a secret weapon in this discussion. We were about halfway through class, the students were dragging and only faintly participating, so I casually mentioned that I had brought my Mozart shirt to demonstrate Mozart's cultural saturation. I had prepared for this moment earlier by taking off my coat (something I do regularly because it gets hot lecturing in front of a room), so I began unbuttoning my dress shirt. The students' reaction was priceless. Some shielded their eyes yet kept glancing up as though they couldn't stand to watch, but couldn't bear not to. Others shook their heads as though in disbelief that I was actually stripping in front of them. Underneath my shirt I was wearing the Mozart shirt and when it was finally revealed the class erupted. One student proclaimed "Dr. Granade, you just made my day," and another chimed in as I attempted to continue the discussion, "You have to give us a minute to soak it all in." Regardless of their response, I saw them all suddenly tune back in and our discussion picked up immediately. As we turned to Mozart's music, they had new insights and were eager to learn.

Not even a minute's worth of classtime, but enough to carry us through the rest of the period. That's why, sometimes, I'll do anything for a laugh.


Stephen said...

Awesome. That is everything we could have hoped for for that shirt and more.

Andrew said...

Yes, and its just so darn much fun to wear in public and see people's heads turn. Thanks for the present!

Andy Forbes said...

Very cool. I haven't tried the real version of Portal, but here's a Flash version that I've enjoyed:

Anonymous said...

In the classroom, "no fear" must always be your motto! There's nothing quite like physicality to bring out the best responses from a class.