The Sounds of Silence
|Courtesy xkcd, of course|
Any typesetter worth his or her salt will tell you that the space on a page that has not been inked is just as important as the space containing words. White space is as necessary to being able to read as words are.
Imagine, if you will, how hard it would be to read withoutthespecebetweenwords. Imagine how hard it would be without a space between lines. Or without margins. Or, in a newspaper, columns.
Negative space is vital to speech, too: we hear pauses that convey a great deal. A good reader modulates the pace of what they read so as to indicate to the audience where sentences begin and end.
When teaching writing, it is a factor that is often overlooked in our rush to produce content — and how to read and use punctuation which creates space — such as the em dash — is not considered as important as the period or comma. Teachers also do not teach layout, and how to maximize legibility with white space. Perhaps teachers have not been taught that themselves, even though they notice it when it has not been utilized well.
|Caslon specimen sheet. Use it sometime at 12 pt, with 16 point leading|
The same goes for learning how to use the “white space” of silence when teaching. Some teachers feel that they only have control of the student’s attention when they are actively speaking: the result is that the teacher never shuts up. Learning how to maintain control of the room while not speaking — to create a charged atmosphere with the absence of sound — is a great tool. A good, engaging teacher can convey much with their body language and eyebrows without having to say a thing.
It is necessary during every class period for the students to have time to gather their thoughts and to compose speech of their own. When asking a question, teachers often rush in to fill the silence of an answer doesn’t come quickly enough. It is important, sometimes, to let your words hang in the air for effect.
Only appropriate if you're an auctioneer. Not so much if you're teaching.
When students read, it is easy to hear when they miss the temporal cues which govern the pace of the text. We’ve all heard that kid who reads in one long stream, ignoring sentence structure in an effort to race to the end. In this case, they are not reading, so much as gobbling type. Reading aloud is not the same as reading, silently, to ourselves. Teaching aloud is likewise different. Sometimes, we must teach — and learn — silently, in order to understand.