At a recent in-service a teacher raised her hand and said, "I hate that there is a right way to spell a word. Correcting spelling kills creativity!"
This teacher expressed one of the doubts at the center of the literacy debate: Don't rules limit children's creativity?
As humans we are all creative, though many times we forget that creativity comes in many forms and is paired with an endless combination of personality traits. Sadly, many people stereotype creativity and limit its scope to someone who creates through writing, drawing, sculpting, music... without prior training and who flows freely with ideas. They often assume that learning techniques or skills will limit the flow of ideas and therefore stifle creativity. Many teachers, like the one mentioned above, believe that students who know there is a "right" way to spell a word will therefore become less creative in their writing and be hindered by the fear of spelling a word incorrectly.
The idea that spelling, phonics, focused practice, or a "right" way kills creativity not only demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of creativity, but it disrespects every learner that is hindered by writing if they cannot do it correctly.
Though some students will write volumes without caring if a word is spelled correctly, many students, perhaps even the majority, are tentative when provided paper and pencil without basic skills. Learning how to spell words by using the phonograms and spelling rules unleashes creativity by placing in the students' hands the raw knowledge needed to write.
Focused practice and overteaching provide students with the mastery of words needed so that they can free their minds from the mechanics of writing and truly focus on the creative work of writing their original thoughts.
This principle is true not only in spelling education, but in all areas of creativity. No one can sit down at a piano and begin to play without prior music training. Through hours of practice, creativity is unleashed. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, with ten thousand hours of practice true genius is revealed.
Spelling does not kill creativity. Rather, a solid literacy education unleashes creativity.