Specially Designed Instruction and Student Success

by | Jun 6, 2023


When it comes to meeting the diverse needs of students with learning disabilities, there is no tool quite as transformative as Specially Designed Instruction (SDI). Today, we delve into the world of SDI, illustrating how it can revolutionize the educational journey of these students and enable them to reach their full potential.


Unpacking SDI: Real-World IEP Examples

SDI offers a wealth of innovative strategies to cater to a student’s unique learning needs. Here are some examples that could be incorporated into an Individualized Education Program (IEP):


  • Facilitating the use of visual schedules.


  • Implementing social-emotional learning through evidence-based curricula.


  • Phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary instruction, fluency, and comprehension.


  • Pre-teaching, reteaching, or lesson repetition.


  • Teaching students to communicate preferences through choice cards.


  • Self-regulation instruction using the Zones of Regulation.


  • Repetition teaching with audio or video recordings.


  • Instruction using mnemonic strategies.


SDI vs. Differentiated Instruction & Intervention

While both SDI and differentiated instruction cater to individual student needs, SDI is tailored specifically for each student. In contrast, differentiated instruction modifies the learning content to cater to all students’ abilities and learning styles. In essence, differentiation aims to give all students the opportunity to demonstrate learning in ways that suit them best.


SDI is closely tied to interventions, but it is delivered through the student’s IEP, whereas interventions are delivered through a separate plan. An important distinction is that before qualifying for an IEP, a student should have received interventions that may be similar to SDI as part of the evaluation process.


Interventions vs. Accommodations

Interventions and accommodations often work hand-in-hand, yet they serve distinct roles. Interventions aim to teach new skills to help students overcome specific deficits, requiring targeted assessment, planning, and data collection. On the other hand, accommodations adjust the learning environment or process to help students leverage their existing abilities to the fullest.


The IEP Trinity for Specially Designed Instruction

There are three critical components that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates be included in the IEP for effective SDI:


  • Current levels of performance.


  • Specific and measurable goals.


  • Service delivery.


These components support each other and work in concert to provide a robust framework for SDI.


SDI: A Beacon for Students with SLD and Dyslexia

Structured Literacy instruction is a key SDI strategy for students with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) and dyslexia. This method explicitly and systematically teaches students to decode words, and it has been proven effective not only for students with dyslexia and SLD, but for all readers.


Who Delivers SDI and How?

This is a pivotal aspect of SDI. It must be delivered by a qualified special education professional or service provider, though general education teachers can collaborate with special education service providers to assist with SDI. Special and general education teachers can jointly deliver SDI through practices like Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) and Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS).


Paraprofessionals can also contribute to SDI, provided a certified special education teacher designs the SDI and supervises the paraprofessional. The delivery of SDI involves rigorous monitoring, assessment data analysis, and potential instructional modifications based on progress updates.


Distinguishing SDI from Accommodations and Modifications

Accommodations and modifications can be elements of SDI, but they are not interchangeable terms. Accommodations alter how a student learns the same material as their peers, and modifications change what the student is expected to learn. In essence, SDI encompasses the adaptation and delivery of these strategies by qualified special education professionals.


Conclusion: Embracing the Power of SDI

SDI is not a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, it represents a collection of individually-tailored instructional plans designed to address the unique needs of each student. Unlike standard instruction, SDI can be adapted for the general classroom setting and is aimed at helping students progress towards the standard curriculum.


One key distinction, however, is that SDI must be delivered by a special education professional or at least under their supervision. Understanding this aspect of SDI is vital for school leaders, educators, and paraprofessionals, as it forms a cornerstone of special education and significantly impacts the academic development of students within the education system.


Through an in-depth understanding of SDI and a commitment to its implementation, we can make a substantial difference in the lives of our students, empowering them to reach their full potential.



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