What is so Special About Specially Designed Instruction?

According to NYS Educational Laws and Regulations, Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is defined as:  “adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible student under this Part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs that result from the student’s disability; and to ensure access of the student to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards that apply to all students.

What does that mean in the classroom? How can a teacher plan for and address the needs of his or her students? Here is an easy step by step guide:

  1. First, ask yourself, “do students with disabilities in my classroom have access to the general education curriculum?  And, are these students working on content aligned with the content of the work of their grade level peers?”  SDI addresses the barrier(s) to participation.
  2. What factors might present barriers to access, participation, and progress in general education for these students?  Consider barriers that might exist within the: Environment, Content, Instruction, How Learning is Measured, and Materials Used
  3. Accommodations, Modifications, Specialized Equipment, and Adaptive Technology Needs should already be adjusted for by following the students’ Individualized Educational Plans (IEP)
  4. To provide SDI, an instructor is going to focus on strategy instruction that is explicitly planned and delivered.  This will be done by analyzing the tasks involved, providing instruction based on students’ individualized gaps, pre-teaching/re-teaching of material, scaffolding (shaping and fading) and development of meta-cognitive strategies. Information on what each of the students need in order for the teacher to do this should also be included in the IEPs of the students that the teacher works with.  (However, this is often an area that is lacking in most IEPs and really should be developed more thoroughly within that important document).
  5. When planning for your class, this summary sheet is very helpful.  First list your students with disabilities (SWDs) across the top, then fill in the grid with what they need and what you need to do to remove any barriers that may prevent them from accessing the curriculum.  Make sure to start with your students’ strengths and make sure to use them to best encourage and support your students as well.


  1. Now, plan your lesson keeping these strengths and needs in mind for each of your students.   Make sure your lesson plan includes:
    1. The lesson objective(s) and standard(s) being addressed
    2. How you are going to explicitly teach the content
      1. make sure to include the explicit teaching of the objective,
      2. activating prior knowledge,
      3. connections to previous learning,
      4. explicit vocabulary instruction,
      5. “I do” (think alouds, demonstrations, models, rubric),
      6. how you will continually formatively access and provide feedback
      7. “We do” (teacher/student observation and feedback, whole class and small group work, discussion),
      8. make sure to continually formatively assess and provide feedback
      9. “You do” (Independent practice—only given after they have had multiple opportunities to practice and ensure success)
      10. Lesson Closure—this includes a summary that ties back to the lesson objective and a check for understanding
    3. Make sure to plan for any and all accommodations, modifications, technology and equipment needs, and strategy instruction specially designed and necessary for each SWDs success

Remember, SDI is mandatory for the instruction of all students with disabilities.  If you would like to learn more about any of these steps, please contact me or any of the Special Education School Improvement Specialists in your area.  We would be glad to assist you in your instructional planning and support for students with disabilities.

Siobhan O’Hora
Special Education School Improvement Specialist


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s