Classroom Placement of Twins
Ron Banks
2001

What are the issues surrounding classroom placement of twins and other multiples?

The central issue in this FAQ is whether twins or other multiples should be placed in different classrooms or placed in the same classroom. Several other questions arise when examining this issue:

  • Who should set policy regarding twin classroom placement?
  • Should schools have a policy, or should the decision be made on a case-by-case basis? Should the age and grade level of the children influence this decision?
  • What role should parents play in making the decisions?
  • What role should the feelings of the twins themselves play?
  • Does research support placing twins together or separating them?
  • What position do organizations for twins and other multiples take on this issue (e.g., National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs)?

Are multiple births increasing?

The incidence of multiple births has increased dramatically in the past two decades. The birthrate for twins, who constitute the most common kind of multiple births, increased 62% between 1980 and 1998 (Ventura et al., 2000). Given this trend, it seems reasonable to assume that many teachers will have twins and other multiple siblings in their classes at some point in their teaching careers (Katz, 1998).

What does the research say about classroom placement of twins?

Research on the effects of twin separation in school and other practical questions is still very limited (Katz, 1998). Much of what has been published is anecdotal or is published in newsletters and other non-peer reviewed publications. Thus, there is no research-based rationale for either separating twins into different classrooms or keeping them together. Dreyer (1991) attempted to synthesize the existing research literature. The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc. (NOMOTC) published Dreyer's work, and then published an updated version nine years later (NOMOTC, 2000). According to NOMOTC, results from reissued surveys and anecdotal information from parents of multiples revealed very little change in the amount of available information about, and in educator attitudes toward, twin separation since Dreyer's original work was published.

Most of the literature that exists involves survey research or informal studies. Leeper and Skipper (1970) conducted one formal research study that attempted to measure achievement, acceptance, and adjustment of twins who had either stayed together in classrooms or been separated. They paired twins in grades 1-6 who had been separated with pairs of twins who had not. While Leeper and Skipper discovered some differences at certain grade levels, no reliable pattern emerged. The researchers concluded that separation is not necessarily advisable (Leeper & Skipper, 1970).

Dreyer (1991) and NOMOTC (2000) summarize survey research related to classroom placement of twins and other multiples. A study done in 1976 showed that the principal was the individual who most frequently made the placement decisions (Alexander, 1987). Of 169 randomly selected principals, 83% favored separation, and 9% recommended separate schools if at all possible. Only 4% were flexible in their decisions. Seventy-eight percent of parents favored separation. (It is worth noting that 38% of the parents who were twins themselves chose not to separate their twin children.) Dreyer and NOMOTC suggest that the parents who chose separation may have been conceding the decision to the educational "experts" and not indicating their true sentiments. She also suggests that parents are heavily influenced by "individualizing theories" read in books or heard in lectures or at meetings of twin organizations (Dreyer, 1991; NOMOTC, 2000).

In the same study, 249 pairs of twins were surveyed regarding their class placement preferences. Fifty-five percent preferred to be separated, although 77% were actually separated. Elliot (cited in Dreyer, 1991) surveyed 73 twin sets between the ages of 12 and 73 and found that only 41% agreed with the decisions made on their behalf. A slim majority (51%) favored separation, but not in early childhood. Twenty-five percent thought separation should be gradual after grade 3 (or grade 6 if there was a concern), and 31% favored total class separation from the start of elementary school. Elliot's findings also indicated that twins want involvement in the decision, and want experiences of being placed together as well as being separated.

In 1989, NOMOTC conducted a survey of 1,423 teachers and principals across the United States (Dreyer, 1991; NOMOTC, 2000). Over half of the educators surveyed believed in a policy of separation of multiples in school classrooms. They believed that separation promotes a positive self-concept and intellectual growth, among other advantages. The NOMOTC survey pointed out that only 15% of the respondents said the topic of multiples had been addressed in college course work.

NOMOTC conducted another survey in 1999 that was similar to the 1989 survey. They discovered that most parents felt there should not be a formal policy regarding classroom placement. The problem of lack of teacher training was still an issue, as 80% of the teachers surveyed felt that the issue of multiples is rarely discussed in teacher preparation programs at the college level. Almost all teachers felt that the school and parents should work together in making placement decisions for each set of multiples. However in response to another question, 43% of the teachers thought that twins should be separated if two classrooms were available (NOMOTC, 2000).

The NOMOTC survey also asked educators about the special issues raised by grade retention or "grade skipping," when one twin is promoted and the other retained. Ninety-two percent of the survey respondents indicated that special tutoring should be implemented to avoid retention of one twin and promotion of the other. If the retention decision is made for one twin, about half felt that the other twin should not also be held back. Decisions to send one twin to kindergarten a year before the other should also be made very carefully and made only if all other solutions fail (NOMOTC, 2000).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of different-classroom placement decisions?

Among the reasons for separating twins are the following:

  • Classmates and teachers engage in frequent comparisons of the twins, to the detriment of the "less skilled" twin.
  • The twins are causing major behavioral disruptions that cannot be solved through other means (e.g., one is distracting the other, or one is "mothering" the other excessively).
  • Constant "togetherness" seems to be hindering the development of social skills in one or both. (All twins should show the ability to form friendships outside of themselves by about the age of 6 years.)
  • The twins have been in the same classroom in previous year(s) and seem secure now and ready for separation.
  • Parents or the twins themselves strongly advocate separation (the separation arrangement might be tried, at least temporarily in this case).

Among the reasons for placing twins or other multiples in the same classroom are the following:

  • The twins/multiples are already dealing with separation from the parents when they enter preschool/kindergarten; separating them from their other major source of security can be traumatic.
  • Major emotional traumas have occurred recently at home (e.g., death, divorce, etc.).
  • Only one classroom is available.
  • One of the twins/multiples has health concerns that separation would exacerbate because of increased stress.
  • Parents or twins themselves strongly advocate placement in the same class (the same-class arrangement might be tried, at least temporarily).

Are there guidelines for the placement of twins in school?

The NOMOTC presents the following basic principles in their booklet Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School: A Guide for Educators (NOMOTC, 2000, pp. 29-31):

  1. School should provide an atmosphere that respects the close nature of the multiple bond while at the same time encouraging individual abilities.
  2. Schools should maintain a flexible placement policy throughout the early elementary school years.
  3. When multiple-birth children are enrolled in different classrooms at the same grade level, there is a need for a consistent approach to instruction and classroom management.
  4. Educators should move with extreme caution when considering retention, acceleration, or designation in any of the areas of exceptionality of one or more children in a set of multiples.
  5. Teachers at the primary, middle, and high school levels should value parental input regarding the nature of the multiples' relationship.
  6. School districts should provide staff at all grade levels with multiple-related research and reading materials.
  7. At the university level, schools of education should introduce teachers in training to the research findings on the psychology of twins and higher order multiples in their curricula.

Many schools, principals, and teachers believe that twins should be separated in classrooms, not necessarily as a formal school policy, but as standard accepted practice. Organizations dedicated to the welfare of twins, such as NOMOTC, and many twins themselves propose that there should be no fixed practice of separation, but a policy that encourages flexibility on a case-by-case basis. There is very little research literature related to this topic, and no firm conclusions supporting either position can really be drawn at this time.

Sources

Alexander, Terry Pink. (1987). Make room for twins: A complete guide to pregnancy, delivery, and the childhood years. Toronto: Bantam.

Dreyer, Linda Hostetler. (1991). Placement of multiple birth children in school: A guide for educators. Albuquerque, NM: National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs.

Leeper, Sarah H., & Skipper, Dora S. (1970). Achievement, acceptance, and adjustment of twins in the same and separate classrooms. Research Journal (University of Maryland), 1(2), 6-11.

National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs. (2000). Placement of multiple birth children in school: A guide for educators. Thompson Station, TN: Author.

Ventura, Stephanie J.; Martin, Joyce A.; Curtin, Sally C.; Mathews, T. J.; & Park, Melissa M. (2000). Births: Final data for 1998. National Vital Statistics Reports, 48(3).

Resources

How to Obtain ERIC Documents and Journal Articles:

References identified with an ED (ERIC document)or EJ (ERIC journal) are cited in the ERIC database. ERIC Documents (citations identified by an ED number) may be available in full text from ERIC at no cost at the ERIC Web site: http://eric.ed.gov. Journal articles are available from the original journal, interlibrary loan services, or article reproduction clearinghouses.

If you would like to conduct your own free ERIC database searches via the Internet, go directly to http://eric.ed.gov/

Search of the ERIC Database through 3/2004 on Placement of Twins in School Classrooms

  • The Perceptions, Policy, and Practice of Educating Twins: A Review. EJ671156
  • Seeing Double: What You Should Know about Educating Twins (and Triplets). EJ624726
  • Samatha, Matthew, and Shane: A Case Study of the Motivational Factors That Drive These Triplets To Learn. ED447378
  • Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School: A Guide for Educators. {Revised Edition}. ED443568
  • Twins, Together Too Much? EJ556013
  • Guidelines for the Education of Multiple Birth Children. ED423059
  • Twins Included and Not Included in Special Programs for the Gifted. EJ345564
  • Counseling Twins and Their Families: Special Considerations for Assessment and Intervention. ED376419
  • Twinshock: Twins Are a Hard Happiness. Issues in the Care of Multiple Birth Children. ED285687
  • Achievement, Acceptance and Adjustment of Twins in the Same and Separate Classrooms EJ031404