As an educator who is a mother of identical twin boys, it is important my fellow educators understand best practices for children who are multiples. In my classroom, I have had one half of a twin set and both twins together. My experience thus far as an educator and a parent of multiples has taught me when educators focus on twins as a “we” instead of an individual “me,” they are not providing an optimal learning environment for academic and social development. I offer five tips to teachers to help them successfully teach twins.
1. Respect parents’ decision of when to separate twins into separate classrooms.
Parents have spent the most time with their children and know them best. What may have worked for twins you have previously taught may not be best for every set of twins. If you have concerns, share them with the parents and partner with the parents to provide the best outcome. For my husband and I, that meant our boys were in the same classroom for preschool during the first semester, but in separate classrooms at two different schools during the second semester. This placement would not work for all twins, but it was the best placement for our boys.
2. Twins do not need an equal classroom experience.
If you have a set in your class, you will drive yourself crazy trying to ensure each child has the exact same opportunities. In her book, Emotionally Healthy Twins, Joan A. Friedman, Ph.D, shares this script, “Life isn’t always fair or equal. And your life will always be different from your brother’s which is what makes each of you so special.” I have found this script helpful to explain the reasoning behind my actions when a twin does not understand why something is not the same. It’s to each child’s benefit to understand this concept because it will help his or her emotional and social development.
3. Academic milestones should not be compared.
Each child should be praised for his or her accomplishments. When one twin has a special need or struggles with an academic subject, it will impede the child’s progress if the child believes the bar is the success of his or her twin. When scheduling conferences focus on one child at a time. Do not alternate between twins. This is easy to accomplish if conferences are scheduled for each child and not for the twins as a unit. When scheduling individual conferences, do not allow a twin to be present at its sibling’s conference. One of our son’s has an anxiety diagnosis. It is important his brother is not privy to conversations about him, so he does not feel as if he is being compared and knows his progress is private.
4. Ensure other students refer to twins by their names.
Part of navigating school as a twin is learning to develop as an individual and being known by others for what is unique about you. When other students refer to twins as “the twins” or “hey twin” what is being acknowledged is the fact they are siblings who were born on the same day. They are seen as only a unit or part of a unit and not known for who they truly are.
5. A twin is not the teacher of its twin; you are.
If you have a concern about a child who is a twin, speak to the twin directly or contact the parents, but not child’s twin. If one twin is having difficulties with behavior or academics, do not use the child’s twin to help him or her academically or to help regulate troubling behavior. This creates an unhealthy dynamic for twins. You have turned over your responsibility as a teacher to a child. As the teacher, you should encourage each twin to only be responsible for him/herself not for each other.
This is not an all inclusive list, but I have found these five tips to be beneficial in my classroom.