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random letters on a blue backgroundThere is a lot of excitement in the state of Iowa when working with students with significant disabilities. More than ever, educators are making efforts to align instruction with the Iowa Core Essential Elements. Why is this important? Because all students can learn and should have the opportunity to do so. This mindset means more rigorous instruction and aligning goals that are “appropriately ambitious,” which is encouraging to me, as I am both an educator and a parent of a child with significant disabilities.

During the past two years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Iowa Significant Disabilities Specially Designed Instruction Leadership Team to work toward literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities. This team looks closely at Iowa’s Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) Framework, which includes Diagnosis for Instructional Design, Design for Instructional Delivery, and Delivery for Learner Engagement and Engagement of Learning (see below). The SDI Framework is a building block for the work that is going on in the classroom setting.

Iowa’s Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) Framework

In my coaching role, I have the opportunity to work with teachers to dive into instructional data that drives next steps to best meet students’ needs as a readers and writers. We look at individual students, as well as the whole class. To create a literacy rich environment, we have added multiple resources including Koppenhaver and Erickson’s The Four Blocks Way comprehensive literacy instruction model which consist of guided/shared reading, self-selected reading, and working with words and writing. We have also added core vocabulary in our rooms to assist with communication needs throughout the day, the use of alternate pencils, word walls, Smart Partners Communication Strategies, classroom libraries with multiple-age appropriate genres, and the Iowa Core Essential Elements. Every two weeks, a team consisting of teachers, the building literacy coach, the AEA school psychologist, speech language pathologist, assistant technology consultant, the building principal and me meet to discuss the SDI Framework, student progress, and data. We have seen a tremendous shift in how we approach pedagogy when working with students who have significant disabilities. We all see the students as readers and writers, we see their potential, and we see that what we are doing is making a difference in these students’ lives. 

As I said earlier, I am an educator and a parent as well. More than ever, collaboration and communication with parents is necessary. Parents need to know they are an important team member when setting literacy goals for their child. They need to make sure that the goals are appropriately ambitious and the instruction is meeting their child’s needs. Most parents that I speak to do not have a clear understanding of the Iowa Core Essential Elements and the instruction that takes place to meet these requirements. It is our job to make sure they are informed.  State leadership teams will continue to spend countless hours utilizing data to make alterations in their application of SDI.  A large component of this is listening to stakeholders, and making data-driven decisions that will greatly impact our students with significant disabilities in a positive way. I see administrators going into classrooms watching lessons and they are overjoyed with what they are seeing. Regardless of our roles, we as educators know all students can learn and should have the opportunity to show their strengths as they continue to work toward their literacy goals. 

Education is a team effort and with all constituencies working together the continued implementation of SDI will only serve to further empower the learning of students with significant disabilities.

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Posted by : Dawn Bonsall