Instructional Design: Explicit and Systematic Instruction

Now that we have a handle on how to determine Present Levels of Performance/Function (PLoP/F)s and have relevant goals that align, let's plan for Specially Designed Instruction (SDI).

But what is best practice?

Let's remember... SDI is special for a reason. It meets the needs of the individual child, addresses skill gaps, and ultimately, creates greater accessibility to grade-level content.

When planning for SDI, you are planning for specific skill gaps that were evidenced in the PLoP/Fs. SDI targets those skills.

The most effective way to target skill gaps is to plan for Explicit and Systematic Instruction.


When instruction is explicit, skills and concepts are explained in a clear and direct manner with a precise explanation. Explicit instruction includes the modeling of a skill or a concept. The process of "I do, we do, you do" is critical.

  • I do: Teacher models the skill or concept and shows exactly what to do

  • We do: Teacher supports the child in practice of new skill or concept and provides scaffolding as needed and corrective feedback

  • You do: Child practices the new skill or concept independently, with the ultimate goal of mastery, as the teacher monitors and provides feedback

If there is not mastery of the skill or concept, the process may be repeated.

Systematic instruction is carefully thought out, builds on prior knowledge and moves from simple to complex. This type of instruction is broken in to "digestible bites" that are manageable and directly relate to the established goal.

Here is an example of Explicit and Systematic Instruction. The objective of the instruction is to identify the first sound in a word.

I do: We are going to identify the first sound in a word. The word is big. The first sound I hear in the word big is /b/.

We Do: Say big with me. (big). Say the first sound in big. (/b/). Yes, the first sound in big is

/b/. Say met. (met). Say the first sound in met. (/m/). Yes, the first sound in met is /m/.

You Do: Your turn. Say sit. (sit). Say the first sound in sit. (/s/). Yes, the first sound in sit is /s/.

Say cat. (cat). Say the first sound in cat. (/c/). Yes, the first sound in cat is /c/.

So how is Explicit and Systematic instruction different from Scripted Instruction?

  • It provides scaffolding and multiple opportunities for students to practice a skill.

  • The objective of instruction is a particular skill; not multiple.

  • The "I do, We do, You do" model is designed for practice and mastery through the use of scaffolding and corrective feedback.

  • It targets specific skills and builds upon knowledge already acquired.

The reality is...

Unless we design instruction that is based on present levels and addresses skill gaps, children are not going to make learning gains. SDI needs to be Explicit and Systematic to support growth.

And, for goodness sake, if a child has gaps in his foundational skills, why would you insist he work on grade level for his SDI?! Does that make any sense?!

Build the foundations through Explicit and Systematic Instruction. Period. The rest will come.

Little steps will get them there.

Need help with SDI and closing skill gaps?

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