Understanding Specially Designed Instruction

The Secret Garden book coverLet’s imagine for a minute that the world of education is kind of like The Secret Garden, filled with tons of different plants and flowers each representing a unique student with their own set of strengths and challenges.

Similar to how a master gardener provides personalized care for each flower – be it water or sunlight, specially designed instruction (SDI) is the nurturing force in education that enables students with moderate to severe disabilities to thrive in their academic journey.

To ensure SDI is implemented in the classroom, legally binding IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, play a critical role. SDI outlines the specific goals, objectives, and accommodations for each student receiving special education services.

In this blog, we’ll unpack the role of specially designed instruction in special education and why it’s beneficial for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Key Principles of Specially Designed Instruction

Specially designed instruction is a broad term that encompasses various components, including instructional methods, materials, and assessments, all designed to support individualized learning and equitable education opportunities for students, helping them reach their full potential. Let’s take a peek at a number of the key principles of SDI.

  1. Personalized Instruction: Let’s take a minute to think of a set of identical twins, Roman and Camden. Roman loves cars, math and non-fiction stories, while Camden loves football, science and all things art. While someone who doesn’t know Roman and Camden may look at them and assume that they are similar based solely on looks, realistically we know that every person is unique. Similarly, SDI acknowledges that no two students are alike, and as such, it emphasizes personalized instruction tailored to individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. So, while Camden may need visual supports to better connect with his creativity and visual learning when it comes to classroom instruction, Roman may not. With SDI, educators can adapt and modify content, delivery methods, and assessments to tailor learning to meet the needs of each student. Personalized instruction should be grounded in a student’s IEP goals and based on multiple sources of data – data from evaluations, data from assessments, data from classroom observations, etc.
  2. Differentiated Instruction: Slightly different from personalized instruction, SDI promotes differentiation by providing various instructional approaches and materials to support different learning profiles. For example, educators can use a wide array of strategies, such as visual aids, manipulatives, assistive technology, and multisensory activities, to ensure all students are receiving meaningful educational opportunities in a way that works best for them. If we think back to the identical twins mentioned above, Roman and Camden, Roman may be able to read without the use of assistive technology, but Camden may benefit from use of text-to-speech voice reader as a result of his disability that makes decoding written words very challenging.
  3. Progress Monitoring: Above all else, regular progress monitoring is imperative to help guide SDI, inform instructional decisions and make necessary adjustments. As educators, it’s important to assess what instructional strategies are working, or not, in order to attain meaningful learning outcomes for students.

Benefits of Specially Designed Instruction

Now that we’ve gone through some key pieces of specially designed instruction, let’s discuss the benefits.

Specifically in special education, educators need to help students overcome barriers so that progress can be made toward students’ educational goals. That’s where SDI comes in!

When specially designed instruction is thoughtfully built into a student’s IEP and implemented effectively, the student will experience increased engagement and motivation because learning is designed uniquely for them. SDI provides educators with the opportunity to tap into students’ interests and preferences, fostering a positive and engaging learning experience. And, when students feel valued and supported, they are more likely to be actively involved in their learning, ultimately leading to improved outcomes.

The benefits of SDI extend far beyond academic achievements. By embracing the principles of individualization, SDI makes learning in the least restrictive environment with access to the general education curriculum a reality for our student population.

Contributor Bio

Megan GilsonMegan Gilson is the Director of Content Marketing Strategy at TeachTown, the leading provider of K-12 adapted core curriculum. A skilled content creator, Megan has spent the last decade of her career raising awareness about the benefits of health, wellness and equitable and inclusive education. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz.

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