Many teachers struggle with knowing how to teach twins in the same classroom. Some parents think twins should be separated in school while others feel their twins should be in the same class. In some smaller schools separation is not even an option. With multiple births on the rise, chances are all teachers will find themselves with sets of twins on their class list and be looking for tips for teaching twins. This blog post will provide a list of eleven things teachers should know about having twins in school.
Never refer to them in the collective form.
When calling students always be sure to use their individual names. Saying things like, “Jacob, Karlee, Braden and the twins will be in the blue group” sends a message to the twins and the class as a whole that they are a collective group and not individuals.
Schedule their conferences on two different days.
Even with the best intentions it is challenging to sit down with their parents and not find yourself switching from one twin to the other or using comparisons. It will take more time and the parents may actually be resistant because it will mean they have to come in twice. Explaining to them how you feel it is important to make sure each child’s strengths and areas for growth are discussed in depth and without comparison will be greatly appreciated.
Talk to them about their preferences in the classroom…separately.
All sets of siblings have different personalities, relationships and feel differently about things in the classroom. Ask them if they like to sit together or be in the same group. Find out what excites them about being in the same class as their brother or sister and what concerns them. But, here’s the catch…you need to do this privately one on one. If you have this kind of conversation with them together chances are one of them will differ to the other.
Never let on to the twins that you can’t tell them apart.
Do not call them over to look at photos you’ve taken and ask who is who. When in doubt place all the pictures on a table and instruct each child to go get his or her own photo. Likewise, never ask which twin is which. Avoid calling them the wrong names by using general terms with ALL students like buddy, pal or friend.
Never ever let on to the parents that you can’t tell them apart.
Moms and dads do not think it’s cute or funny when you joke about not knowing which twin is which. Also, when you ask a parent, “how do you tell them apart?” what the parent hears is “I am responsible for caring for and teaching your child and I have no idea who she is.” Take the time to come up with strategies and clues so you know who is who on your own. Speak to their former teacher and ask her how she did it. Talk to the specialists in your school who have had them before. Just don’t ask the parents.
Be sure to include a note in your substitute plans explaining how to tell them apart.
Being a sub in a classroom is hard work. It is always in your best interest and the best interest of all your students to create detailed sub plans so the day runs smoothly in your absence. I have written a blog post and created a free ebook with printables specifically on how to prepare for a substitute teacher. If you have twins in your classroom you will also want to go a step further and include any additional notes about them. These may include how to tell them apart or even general tips such as, "don't ask them how people tell them apart" or "avoid making verbal comparisons about their physical features."
Teach the other students how to tell them apart.
What better way to model a lesson on Venn diagrams than by comparing and contrasting the twins in your class. Be sure to ask their permission first so as not to make them uncomfortable. If they are OK with the idea then make plans to meet with them ahead of time to plan the lesson. Perhaps even send the diagram home for the family to help with ahead of time. Have the siblings stand at the front of the group and ask them to help you lead the lesson. All of the items that get placed onto the chart should be generated by them. They can share ways they look alike and look different. They can also share similarities and differences with hobbies and interests that will help the other children connect with them and form friendships. Avoid having the rest of the class chime in because pointing out differences in height or looks can be hurtful.
Never make one twin responsible for the other.
It is not Anna’s responsibility to make sure Hanna brings in her homework. Ben shouldn’t be asked to remind Ken that library books are due back to school on Tuesday mornings. If Jenny doesn’t get her reading log signed the teacher shouldn’t ask Penny why mom signed one and not the other. Peer support is a great tool in the classroom. I’ve had my more responsible students assist those who needed support in being prepared for lessons or packing up at the end of the day. If this is the case in your room just pick a student that is not the child’s twin to offer that support.
Understand that even identical twins may have very different learning styles.
It seems obvious, but it not always easy when you are teaching two children who look, sound and act the same. Seek to find out their individual strengths and cater to them the same way you would when differentiating for all your other students.
Don’t hold back on an award, honor or opportunity because only one twin has earned it.
It’s not fair to avoid giving an award or a classroom job to one sibling to avoid hurting the feelings of the other. Find ways to make all the students feel valued and important, but if you genuinely feel one of your twins has earned the school’s “Student of the Month” award based on a character trait he has demonstrated don’t pick another student out of fear of upsetting his twin. The same is true for casting students in roles for class plays.
Don’t be afraid to share your feelings about the twins classroom placement for the next school year.
Some states have a Twins Law that states parents have the ultimate say in deciding if twins should be separated in school or if their twins should be in the same class. There are pros and cons to both options, but truly it comes down to what is the best choice for the individual set of twins and the family. If you have valid reasons to think they should be separated for the next school year share them with the parents. Do so with facts and observational data and not emotional opinion. One year my teaching partner and I each had a twin in our class and we felt they would’ve been better in the same room. We talked to the parents about our thinking and they agreed to place them together the next year.
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