The Phenomenon Of Cool: It Can’t Top Silly

“I don’t wanna play your stupid game!” has stayed with me since I heard a grad school professor share an anecdote from early-career teaching. It refers to how even the best-designed activity or cool idea a teacher has can flop instantly in the classroom. When a teacher spends time on that activity or idea, they get mad. Mad teachers resent teaching students. Students resent mad teachers. No bueno.

Cool is not really something a teacher can control for, or at least if they try, they’re likely to fail. Sometimes students deem something that a teacher does cool, but it’s entirely up to them. Most often, though, students reject what is presented as cool, if only to defy and resist. “This game is stupid” is likely to anger a lot of teachers. The trick is to make the game stupid already.

That’s why we need silly.

Students can make fun of cool, but they can’t really make fun of something that’s already supposed to be made fun of; silly. I started noticing that my students were laughing at the animation quality of clips I’ve used for MovieTalk. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized that production value, especially of graphics, is very, very high on teenagers’ minds these days. The animation was a distraction. That is, until I started incorporating it into class, referring in the target language to how silly some of the characters were portrayed. After all, it’s input, and if the animation quality is more compelling than the story, I’ll go with it.

Is silly too silly?
No. Granted, students can still resent silly as much as they resent cool, but only if you try to make silly seem cool. If you co-create a ridiculous character, don’t act like it’s cool. Act like it’s silly because it is. Since this posts’ title is drawn from the marching arts world, I’ll use another reference, quoting Thom Hannum, that “clarity is the key to effective communication; even confusion must be clear.”

Make silly clear.

2 thoughts on “The Phenomenon Of Cool: It Can’t Top Silly

  1. I encountered this same phenomenon when I was teaching. For one reader in particular in first-year classes, if I presented it as a nice book to read, students complained about how bad it was. If I presented it as a cheesy, unrealistic story, students quickly rallied around the idea of finding and making fun of plot holes, naive and unrealistic behavior on the part of the protagonist, etc. It still allowed me to provide lots of comprehensible input and highlight some of the important life lessons contained in the book. There is a reason why self-deprecating humor is effective.

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