Demystifying Specifically Designed Instruction (SDI)

by | Jun 5, 2023


Every student’s learning needs are unique and deserve personalized attention. This is the foundation of Specially Designed Instruction (SDI), an educational approach developed to meet the individual learning needs of students with disabilities. This article is a comprehensive guide for school leaders, general and special education teachers, and paraprofessionals seeking to understand and implement SDI to maximize student success.


SDI: A Deeper Look

In legal terms, SDI refers to a series of organized and strategically planned instructional strategies, typically conducted by a special education professional. These high-leverage instructional strategies are customized to address the specific needs of each student, considering the impact of their disability on their learning process.


SDI differs from student to student, depending on their specific needs and learning objectives. Its primary aim is to ensure that students with disabilities can participate in the general education classroom, aligning with the same academic standards as their non-disabled classmates.


SDI is the collection of methods employed by educators to identify and close the learning gaps experienced by special education students. In essence, SDI paves the way for these students to make progress towards the goals and learning objectives outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).


Differentiating SDI from Accommodations and Modifications

While accommodations and modifications refer to changes that help students access learning content, SDI extends further. It encapsulates the actual instruction and adaptation of that instruction, which may incorporate accommodations and modifications. Importantly, while accommodations and modifications can be implemented without a special education professional, SDI requires the expertise of such professionals.


SDI in Practice: Content, Methodology, and Delivery

SDI is achieved by appropriately adapting the three core elements of instruction: content, methodology, and delivery.


Content Adaptation

 Content, in this context, refers to the specific knowledge or skills taught to a student, consistent with the grade and curriculum of the school or district. In SDI, content adaptations ensure that the knowledge or skills taught differ from those provided to the student’s peers yet align with the same academic standards.


Methodological Adaptation

SDI leverages different instructional techniques to teach students based on their unique needs defined in their IEP. For instance, the Orton-Gillingham approach, designed for students struggling with reading and writing, may be one such specific instructional method employed.


Adaptation of Delivery

SDI also considers the exact manner in which the instruction is delivered to the student. This must be systematic, explicit, and utilize high-leverage instructional strategies. This could include one-on-one or small group instruction which takes place during the general education class period.


Key Characteristics of SDI

To further clarify, SDI has a series of defining features:


  • It is designed based on a child’s unique needs and is systematic and intentional.


  • SDI is adaptable to any setting throughout the school day.


  • It is consistent with the IEP and ensures the student’s placement in the least restrictive environment.


  • SDI focuses on the ambitious goals and learning objectives in the student’s IEP.


  • It aims to close learning gaps, enabling students to achieve grade-level academic standards.


  • SDI is individual-specific and does not apply universally in a classroom.


  • It can address various needs, including behavioral, communication, academic, and health needs.


  • SDI maintains high expectations and learning standards for students with disabilities.


  • It is continuously monitored to ensure effectiveness.


However, differentiation, providing accommodations and modifications, or employing active learning strategies do not fall under SDI.


SDI vs. Core Instruction: A Comparative Analysis

While core instruction pertains to the standard teaching method based on a general curriculum, SDI is personalized to each student’s unique needs. Both align with set standards and expectations for students, can be executed in a general education classroom setting, and utilize general education teaching strategies.


However, several key distinctions set them apart:

  • SDI is tailored to each student’s needs, while core instruction is designed for all students.


  • SDI is a part of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


  • A qualified special education professional must deliver SDI.


  • Students eligible for SDI might also receive specific testing accommodations.


  • SDI may be conducted in a location separate from the general education classroom.


Despite these differences, the end goal of SDI is to help the student progress within the general education curriculum, mirroring the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS). Both approaches employ evidence-based practices and interventions to support students; the key difference lies in their delivery – MTSS through an intervention plan and SDI through a student’s IEP.


Embracing SDI: A Pathway to Inclusive Education

In conclusion, SDI offers a structured approach to cater to the unique learning needs of each student with a disability. Through personalized content, methodology, and delivery of instruction, it ensures no student is left behind in the pursuit of academic success. As education professionals, understanding and implementing SDI in our classrooms can be a game-changer in our mission to create an inclusive and productive learning environment for all students.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *