Time spent at school is an important part of everyone’s life. However, it must be remembered that school is only part of the larger picture of development and the time of most rapid development has already happened in the period from birth to preschool.
For multiple birth children, the presence of their co-multiple(s) may bring additional challenges, often starting with the question of whether it is better to keep them in the same class or to separate them. But there are other issues such as the ability and school achievement of multiples relative to each other as well as to other children. Adolescence and secondary school bring additional challenges to the multiple birth family as the young people become independent and develop separate interests and aspirations.
There is information here for parents, for teachers, and for adolescent multiples. But the information can also serve to shape school and Education Department policy and so is also summarised in an appropriate form in the section on best practice.
Achievement and Progress
There is little evidence that in general multiples are of any lower intelligence than single-born children although slightly higher numbers of multiples may experience learning difficulties. Back in the days of the 11+ standard testing in British schools, twins on average did not do as well, except in the unfortunate case where their co-twin had died. This led to the idea that there was something about the “twin situation” in such areas as social interactions and language development which contributed to delays in verbal intelligence. (Psychologists typically identify at least two components of intelligence. The first is concerned with language and the second is a non-verbal one assessed by puzzles and mazes which do not involved language to the same extent.). However, this effect is really quite small, and many multiples are performing according to expectations, and therefore this is not an issue for most families. With regard to school performance, there is access to national data both in Australia and the UK.
Why problems may arise and who is at risk?
The PIPS material is much more fun for the children frequently engaging and retaining their attention far more than the old-style examination format used in the ACER study. So may the root of the problem for some multiples lie in inattention? This would also explain that when we test multiples in one-to-one situations where we can work to retain their attention, any differences between multiple and single-born children are much reduced. When we analyzed the ACER data in detail, it became apparent the key issues for the twin boys were INATTENTION and IMPULSIVITY. For example, even at 14, the boys were more likely to make mistakes reading the time from a clockface or adding two digit numbers. These are not so much evidence of poor ability but of failing to concentrate or guessing and it is easy to see how this affects the reading.
When a child sees the word “bat” but reads it as “bag,” their first problem is in reading accuracy, and distorted comprehension is only a secondary issue. Such an accuracy problem is more common in multiples, and it may well happen that a child on seeing a word may guess at any word of roughly the right length or beginning with the same letter. Certainly, this can happen also in single-born children, but both parents and teachers comment on how common it is in multiples.
Problems of Inattention and Impulsivity are key components of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the articles on Special Needs explains that this problem is more common in multiples, how it is associated with speech and reading problems and what can be done to help such multiples. There is also advice for teachers about assisting such children in the classroom. Of course, it is important not to assume all multiples will have reading or attention problems and each child must be considered individually regarding their strengths and difficulties.
Getting multiples ready for reading at school
Parents need to concentrate on three things:
(i) Ensuring their multiples have adequate language skills to cope with the demands that reading will later make on these.
(ii) Teaching the multiples to take turns, to work independently of their multiples and not to rush to be the first to do something. These will all help when it comes to developing reading accuracy. Concentration is also vital, and unfortunately, the others can be such an easy way of destroying this!
(iii) Emphasizing what books are and that they are fun. It is a real task for the young child to work out what a book is, where to start, that the story goes from front to back and top to bottom of the page etc. If they see parents using and enjoying books, the task is halfway resolved. Of course, what parent with two or more active young children of the same age has time to read!
Multiples may manage well if the questions are organized suitably- that is, in ways which attract their attention. What does this mean?
Exams and tests
While class tests have always been part of schooling, the last few years have seen a resurgence of large-scale assessment of children in primary schools in many countries. The reasons for this range from the more political ones of comparing schools and their performance to the more thorough identification of children who may need learning support. Here we examine specific issues that may arise for multiples. Examinations such as A levels (UK) or tertiary entrance exams (Australia) are considered in the section on adolescent multiples.
Why is this different for multiples?
With tests, multiples may be particularly compared with each other. Parents are frequently given computer-generated feedback that summarises each child into one of several bands of ability and achievement. The computer has no idea any particular child is a multiple, and so the situation can easily arise where a small difference in actual scores leads to multiples being placed in different bands and to stereotyping of the children as more different in ability than they really are. The difference in actual score can be as little as one mark, but the result is that the children are placed on different levels.
Preparing multiples for assessment
The main message multiples and indeed all children need is to do as well as you can. It may not be as well as the other multiples in the family or other children in the class, but it is “your” best and shows how much you have learned this year. If there are some of the issues around reading and/or inattention/impulsivity discussed previously, then these should be discussed with the school in advance. Children with attention problems (even if they do not meet the criteria for ADHD) need help with two particular areas of exam strategy. First is time management as they often have a poor sense of time and may spend far too long on just one section of the exam. The second is to learn the exam is not a race and not to answer questions impulsively. Learning organization strategies such as “plan, do and review” can help these children achieve their potential.
Recognizing what differences may mean
Issues here concern differences of multiple(s) from other children and differences among the multiples.
Dim other children and differences among the multiples.
Differences in results may:
(i) Confirm problems such as reading disability which parents have been aware of but hoping would eventually disappear- the “Don’t worry-they?ll grow out of it ” comment discussed in the Preschool section. Alternatively, many parents may say, “At last,” when the school takes seriously what the parents have been saying to them for some time. The Special Needs section deals with coming to terms with disability in one or more multiples.
(ii) Confirm differences between the multiples. When the exam is for such things as an entry to a selective school or the award of a scholarship or other prize, then differences between multiples become very public. It is important to discuss with the children beforehand just what the consequences of differences in performance may be. Some parents consider not taking-up the place or award if only one of the multiples is successful. This is not fair on the one who does achieve. It is equally unfair on the other multiple(s) as it puts them under pressure – the brother or sister who they undoubtedly know is scholastically better will not be able to take advantage of this opportunity unless they too do extremely well. Such exams are usually later in the primary school years, and the multiples are old enough to be able to understand the consequences if not all succeed.
Sometimes it is worth discussing the situation with the school in advance what their attitude would be if one multiple just scraped into a place and the other(s) just missed out. Of course, the school must also be fair to the other children who just missed out as well. If the school is quite definite in saying there would be no preferential treatment, then the family can consider their options before, not after the assessment.
Stereotyping and its implications in the family and at school
While most multiples will fortunately not need help, its importance cannot be ignored especially when there are differences, and one may go right through schooling “behind” the other(s). Both teachers and parents need to work together to ensure that all multiples get help where appropriate without making reading success the whole focus of their schooling and their life outside of school. Attention is obviously focussed on the child wit of difficulties and his/her needs. The ones who are succeeding must not be ignored. It is too easy at home and at school to highlight what the less able twin is finally achieving and to forget that the other(s) has done all this and more. Some parents and teachers may make a point of not congratulating the ablest multiple on their successes, feeling that by doing so they are emphasizing the weaknesses of the other(s). The danger of such an apparently compassionate action is that the more able child will get the message that you never get praised, no matter how hard you try. All multiples need to know that their successes are recognized.
References: See here