With each new school year, this is a question that arises for the parents of twins and their teachers: should the twins be left in the same class or is it better to separate them? Based on the so-called de-twinning theory, some schools impose an almost systematic separation of twins, with the aim of making them more independent and promoting their individuality.
According to this theory, keeping twins in the same class would hinder the healthy development of their identity. According to a survey in the United States, 71% of school principals think it’s important to separate twins from kindergarten. The same research shows that in 45% of the cases in kindergarten there is systematic separation, sometimes against the advice of parents and children. So while 81% of the middle and major twins wanted to be integrated into the same class, 58% of them are divorced.
Parents who oppose divorce say keeping their children in the same class can help each other and reduce the stress of going to school, especially in the early years. On the other hand, pro-divorce parents explain that this would allow their children to develop their own identity, reduce the risk of conflict between them and create their own groups of friends.
Nevertheless, the majority of parents (62%) in this study do not think it is beneficial to divide their children into large sections and do not want to. Also, 20% of parents whose twins were separated say it was at least a little traumatic for their children.
Is a policy of systematic segregation of twins in school justified? In reality, this policy is based on theories that have not been given an empirical basis to date. In addition, many scientific studies conducted over the past two decades have questioned the practices of systematic separation of twins in school.
This research provides important data on the effects of twin separation on their well-being and learning and can help education teams and parents choose (if possible) whether or not to keep these students in the same class.
Effects on well-being
As for well-being at school, a study of 1,116 English and Welsh children aged 5 to 7 found that twins separated at school showed slightly more signs of anxiety and depression than twins kept in the same classroom. These results were confirmed in another study conducted on a sample of 2,184 pairs of Dutch twins, which also shows that these negative effects persist at age 7 when the children were separated at age 5. However, this negative effect does not persist at age 12.
Turning to the question of social relationships, the hypothesis of a benefit of the separation of twins on the quality of their interactions with each other and with other children was recently contradicted by a study conducted among 1120 Quebec twins aged 6 to 12 years. This study shows no positive effect of the separation on the relationship between the twins and mainly shows that the twins who were in the same classroom were slightly less socially withdrawn than those who were placed in different classes.
Finally, in the three studies mentioned, no positive or negative effect of separation could be shown on behavioral problems in young students aged 5 to 7 years. In contrast, the Garon-Carrier study shows that 12-year-old twin students who were divided into two different classes showed more aggressive behavior and more attention problems than those who were not separated.
Effects on educational performance
As for school acquisitions, the results of scientific studies are more mixed. For example, research by Lucy A. Tully (2004) shows a small positive effect of separating 5-year-old dizygotic twins on work engagement, but a small negative effect on the development of reading skills in the early years of acquisition.
Nevertheless, the follow-up of 5,756 Dutch twins, conducted by Dinan Webbink’s team in 2007, shows that keeping twins in the same class, especially those of the same sex, has positive effects on the development of their language and math skills. .
Studies conducted under the direction of TJC Polderman (2010) among 4,006 Dutch twins and Elaine K. White (2018) among 8,705 English and Canadian twins show no positive or negative effect of twin separation on school performance, cognitive skills or motivation, when they are 7 to 16 years old. On the other hand, a positive effect of separating twins in high school on language proficiency has been shown, but the latter effect is only observed in twins of the opposite sex.
A dialogue between teachers and families
To date, research has shown few beneficial effects of separating twins at school. Rather, they seem to emphasize the weak negative effects of early separation of twins, which have an impact on anxiety, depression, math and language in the early years of college education (kindergarten and early elementary school). In addition, twins kept in the same class show better socialization skills than those who are separated.
Later, prolonged separation during primary school shows small but negative effects on aggressive behavior and attention in young adolescents. Currently, research indicates that having a sibling in the same class is usually more of a protective than a risk factor for these children. Keeping twins in the same class can ease entry and first steps in school, as well as the transition into adolescence. The research results therefore provide empirical arguments against any policy of forced and systematic separation of twins at school.
Nevertheless, the issue of the separation of twins remains complex and the antagonistic position that would consist of pursuing a policy of systematically keeping siblings in the same class is not desirable either. Indeed, behavioral issues noticed by the teaching team or problematic relationships between the twins can justify divorce decisions.
All the cited researchers conclude on the need to study situations on a case-by-case basis and that the choice of separating twins or keeping them in the same class should be the result of consultation between teachers, parents and students, taking into account the specific needs of each child and their behavior in the classroom.
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