To the Three R's, Add 'Rolling in the Aisles'

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Did you hear the one about the professor in Connecticut who leads in-service training sessions on laughter for public-school teachers and administrators?

To Joyce Anisman-Saltman, laughter has a "hypodermic effect" on the classroom, injecting energy and interest into the day's routines.

"If the teacher doesn't enjoy school, the student won't want to be there either," she says.

Lectures by the Southern Connecticut University special-education professor run the gamut from medical research to stand-up comedy. At a recent Hartford, Conn., seminar, she had the 400 educators present close their eyes and think somber thoughts. When they completed the task, they found her peering at them through a Groucho Marx-style nose and glasses.

"The point of this exercise and of the seminar itself," she says, ''is to raise morale, ease stress, and inject some creativity into the classroom."

But she also includes in her lectures information on the physiological benefits of laughter. For example, she says that "laughing relaxes muscles and causes the pituitary and other glands to secrete endorphins [the body's natural opiates] and other hormones that elicit a good feeling."

And if her own record is any indication, she adds, laughter may indeed be the best medicine: In 15 years of teaching, she has never missed a day because of illness.

Ms. Anisman-Saltman, who has held laughter seminars for 30 teachers' groups this year, opens each lecture with what she calls an "icebreaker"--any joke or game that can pull the group together. And she recommends that teachers use the same tactic to begin their classes. "Laughter bridges the gap between the best and worst students," she says.

To encourage students to participate, she suggests assigning one child each day the task of bringing in that day's joke. Another way to bring laughter to the classroom, she says, is to recognize the humor that is already there. "If your students all throw their books off their desks at noon on April 1, you should throw yours off, too," she advises.

Teachers have the power to turn pranks around and let students know they have a sense of humor, Ms. Anisman-Saltman maintains. "Enjoy the laugh together and discuss it," she suggests. "It's better than having a day of frowning and discipline."

Vol. 05, Issue 13

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