Not that I’m comparing the classroom to a sitcom, but it’s hard not to.
Allow me some room to think out loud…
I’ve been in education for 20-years, and over this time I’ve seen a parallel between two of my passions; teaching & moviemaking. The parallel I see is in the audience.
Let’s focus on teaching, and one characteristic of teaching that has become difficult for teachers; student engagement. The challenge is not getting a student engaged, it’s keeping the student engaged. Over my short career, student behavior has changed, and the most challenged teachers are those who cannot adjust to this change. Students have ever-decreasing attention spans, demand instant gratification, and will not sit long enough to hear the whole theory before wanting to get hands on.
The same scenario is playing out in the world of entertainment, and in particular in comedy writing. The reason I am focusing on comedy writing is that it’s easy to compare laughs-per-minute to engagement-re-engagement in a lesson… in my mind at least.
Bear with me…
In comedy film writing there is an element of laughs-per-minute that can be calculated, as done by Andrew Bender of Forbes here. In average, comedy film yields about 1.8 laughs-per-minute, according to Andrew’s unscientific study. In stand-up comedy, the laughs-per-minute yield is higher, coming it at roughly 4, according to Steve Roye. In sitcom writing, the laughs-per-minute yield is much higher, at 6, according to Talib Visram of The Atlantic.
This is where I see the correlation. In the classroom, much like on the small/big screen, the challenge of re-engagement – bringing student attention back to the subject in a focus manner – is like that of sitcom writing and keeping the audience engaged by making them laugh often. Over time, I’ve experienced shorter attention spans in students, pushing some lesson-planners to producing more active lessons, adding more engaging content, and creating opportunities for hands-on activities. This is happening in the Humanities as much as it is happening in the Sciences. Some teachers have become more creative in their planning and delivery of lessons, otherwise they stand to lose student engagement. In a way, lesson-planning is like sitcom writing.
The reason I am sharing my thoughts on this is because of the insistence of some teachers to keep things as they were 5-years ago, and to play the blame game. Video-games, diet, lack of sleep, boredom, doctors and their ever-ready prescription pad, and many other aspects of a student’s life outside of the classroom gets blamed. Not to say those things don’t impact life in the classroom, because they do. However, the same teachers playing the blame game tend to deliver the same lesson plan year over year without updating their approach.
When walking into a class as an observer, I’m not expecting a show, however-much there is an aspect of performance in a teacher’s work. Regardless of the day a teacher may be having, they have to show up and put their best face forward. Equally, it should be noted that teachers need not be comedians to teach well, but to dismiss the importance of how things have changed over the past few years is to miss a huge opportunity for keeping students eager for more.
Maybe we should count of re-engagement-actions-per-minute during a lesson?