Sunday, April 6, 2014

Teaching: What We Can Learn By Watching Comedians EDUC 731

I had an idea. I have always had this idea in my head but just the other day, when I was doing my homework for my MEd. class on ELL, I had a really great idea and my wheels started turning as I was studying best practices in ELL when it comes to comprehensible input and it was how some of my favorite comedians have modeled for me this vital term: comprehensible input.

What is comprehensible input you ask? Comprehensible input means that any student should be able to understand  what is being said or presented to them.When we understand these messages, we are good to go. This goes for ELL classrooms and non ELL classrooms.

There are several ways to go about this:

  • Use consistent language
  • Frequent use of visuals
  • Providing frequent opportunities for students to express themselves
  • Scaffolding, or layering information. 
  • Provide instruction that draws on the experiences of students
  • Ask many questions
  • Encourage students to express their ideas and thoughts in the new language. 
  • Cooperative learning and peer tutoring strategies


http://www.misd.net/bilingual/ell.pdf
Source taken from: “Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners”, Echevarria, Vogt, Short Compiled by the Bilingual and Compensatory Education Resource Team, Dearborn Public Schools, Michigan 2002

Now, one thing that you should know about me is that I love to laugh. A good laugh is good for the soul and here are four comedians that have always given me a  good laugh: Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres.  In fact, I will just put it right out there that if we studied these people and the way they do their jobs,  that we would be better teachers.

Relationships Matter: Interact!


Carol Burnett 's comedy sketches were AMAZINGLY funny! What she did well is chunk them. They were not too long and drawn out and they left you wanting more. They say to those she worked with, she was nothing but kind and helpful because she was once given a $1000 chance buy an anonymous person (not to her, but to us) to go to New York and to study. She never forgot. She paid it back and paid it forward. It was said that even before she would to go the set, she would study everybody's name to make it feel more personable. Not only that, she would send thank you notes to people even for the most simple thing.

When you look at the way that Fallon and DeGeneres host their shows, you will see some important key elements that they do to build relationships.


  • Be sincere and authentic: When they are laughing or interacting with others there appear to be no false pretenses
  • Laugh at yourself
  • Get the most from your audience: Pull them in! Engage them!
  • Be as creative as possible and don't leave anyone out. 


You have seen them pull people from the audience for things, you have seen the dancing, you have listen to the continuous laughter. See, just like they have these amazing opportunities, we too are to be a good steward of the opportunities that are in front of us as teachers and make the most of every student contact we can. Turn your lessons into opportunities and experiences the students will remember.

Lucille Ball did these things well. She used big gestures, varied the tone of her voice, (No Buller? Buller? with her!). All four of these comedians I think did/ do a great job of speaking clearly and slowly, mostly because they want their jokes to land well and the audience to hear. That is a great skill for teachers as well, especially teachers of ELL students. Talk slowly. Speak clearly! Clearly, they all model wait time well! They are trained comedians. Wait time in the classroom is important. Wait for it..wait for it...DING.

Relationships do matter!  Without a relationship built, you have nothing. You have a class built on nothing but quicksand.

Embrace Change & Reinvent yourself

If you study Lucille Ball, she like Carol Burnett worked hard at reinventing themselves. They tried new things over and over. Lucille Ball was working as a model when she took ill for quite sometime. She recovered and slowly worked her way through as a struggling model and actor, up and up the ladder. Burnett came from a dysfunctional family, worked in night clubs before she gained what you might call true success. Jimmy Fallon always wanted to be a comedian, however on that road, he also reinvented himself many times before he became a late night host. Ellen DeGeneres no longer wipes cars for a living, she sometimes gives them away on her talk show!

Who I started out being as a first year teacher in 1994, twenty years ago...has morphed into who I am today. I feel maybe like you do, I am constantly reinventing myself so that I bring my best A-game to the classroom. Its not easy. It takes grit and downright determination.

Providing time for students to step backwards as they are learning is vital. As they step backwards, they are reflecting. Which direction will I take next? What do I need to do now? Where am I going with this? This is a great opportunity for growth for any learner.

Every learner, not just an ELL student will have setbacks, that is different from stepping backwards in my mind. A setback though can be an opportunity for amazing self awareness. As teachers or mentors of learning, we want to make sure that the students know that these things do not define them. We want them to keep practicing and growing in their learning. This process of reinventing ourselves pushes us to be who we are created to be and constantly moving forward.

Be Joyful! 

Whether you are watching a re-run of the Carol Burnett Show, Ellen, or The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, you will see that they come ready to make this place where they are, the place to be. If you like what you are doing, the audience will too! If you don't like it, neither will they. That goes the same for the classroom. Those eyes are on you! Get the most of this opportunity!

The consistent use of visuals by Fallon and DeGeneres to make their point crack me up. Not only that, but they seem to make a fun game out of the most mundane thing. If we did that more learning would happen because the students engagement level would increase. They might not even know they are learning something! Like Pictionary...both Fallon and DeGeneres use this. That works in the classroom.

Laugh. Play music. Have fun! Play! Make a weird skit about something! Sing! Dance!

Scaffolding, or building layers on something keeps students interest engaged as well as increases their independence. It wasn't EXACTLY scaffolding when Fallon did his FINGERS ON A 4X4, but close! He layered it, he build excitement, he had it go over several days. Perfect. Scaffolding is like that and the end result is better learners, more successful learners because they are connecting bits of information previously told to them to new information.


Stop, Collaborate and Listen!

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times how Jimmy Fallon makes sure that people know that he has a TEAM of writers for the show. He includes the band, The Roots in the show in ways that let us know as the audience that he values their contribution to the show. Ellen does the same. You have heard her make mention many times that if were not for all the people on whose shoulders she is standing, she would not be able to what she is doing today!

Who is your TEAM? Yes, it is the people you are working with, but it is also the students in the classroom who bring amazing gifts and talents to you. Tap into them. Allow for every opportunity for them to collaborate with each other in as many ways as possible and by a variety of group sizes. The students are an brilliant resource!


Our students come to us so different from each other, just like any member of a studio audience. Every day, we put on a show for these students. We do. It might not be the best show, but it is a show. They might come to us with families as poor as church mice, with confidence shaken, with culture shock if they are ELL students (especially from war torn countries). They might loose patience with themselves. Our job, our sacred job is to show them, to model for them how to BE BRAVE and to take risks. How high expectations of them are to help them succeed in life not to wear them down. Finally as these comedians that I mentioned, Ball, Burnett, Fallon and DeGeneres, celebrate! Life is so beautiful and so worth celebrating.