“if your doing the writ job then fab” (quote from a ten-year-old pupil): Applying Video Interaction Guidance to a whole-class paired writing project. Landor, M. & Gilfillan, C.

“if your doing the writ job then fab” (quote from a ten-year-old pupil): Applying Video Interaction Guidance to a whole-class paired writing project.

Miriam Landor and Clare Gilfillan


Paired writing (Topping 1995) is a well-established approach for improving the quality and quantity of children’s writing. Pupils work together in pairs to stimulate and support each other through set stages of writing activities. Arguably it depends upon pupils’ interaction skills for its successful implementation. Topping recommends that the method “…should involve responsive interactivity from both members of the pair” (Topping 1995 p 115) but neither describes nor advises on training and evaluation for these skills. It may be that any paired writing intervention would be more effective with additional input around social interaction; however, in a situation where a whole class is identified as having difficulties with listening and with collaborating, as in this case, some additional input could make a significant difference. This article reports on a pilot project in paired writing that used Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) as the foundation for improving a whole class’s collaboration skills during a paired writing scheme. Using VIG with a whole class in this way represents an innovative application of this therapeutic and educational intervention.

1.1 Context

The authors (who were at that time trainee educational psychologists) interviewed the teacher of a Scottish P6 class (ten-year-olds) about the pupils’ strengths and needs, their learning styles, his teaching methods and the group’s socio-dynamics. He explained that two thirds of the pupils were boys, whose behaviour could be challenging, especially in terms of their interaction skills. There was a wide range of abilities in writing skills, with some able to identify and write in a variety of styles and others who needed extensive support. None of the children had English as an additional language or had a diagnosis of dyslexia; 17% were currently receiving learning support. The class teacher particularly wanted to focus on ‘time on task’ for the boys in the class as they were physically restless as a group, finding it difficult to remain seated for any length of time.   

1.2 Negotiated aims and objectives

The following aims and objectives were agreed with the class teacher:

– to improve:

  • collaborative working (i.e., Video Interaction Guidance or ‘partnership’ skills of paying attention, positive body language, positive verbal language, taking turns, sharing and helping, guiding; Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011)
  • quality of writing (i.e., ideas generation, text organisation, greater awareness of writing process; Topping 1995)
  • time on-task
  • continuity of work
  • evaluation and feedback skills


Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is an approach which aims to improve interaction skills, or as they were called in this class, ‘partnership skills’. The roots of this methodology lie in social learning theory. Vygotsky hypothesised that cognitive development co-occurs with language and social development, and takes place in a social and cultural context (Garton 2004). Bandura’s social learning theory emphasised the importance of role models in children’s development, which can be either positive or negative (Crain 2000). His concept of self-efficacy (the feeling of personal effectiveness) proposed that psychological change is mediated through cognitive processes and that

“it is performance-based procedures that are proving to be most powerful for effecting psychological changes” (Bandura 1997 p191, cited in Wels 2002).

Dowrick proposed the concept of ‘feedforward’ where self-modeling occurs through the viewing of structured edited video images, which lead towards the target behaviour (Dowrick 1999; Wels 2002). 

VIG was developed in the Netherlands by Harrie Biemans in the 1980s. The approach was based on Colwyn Trevarthen’s research on primary and secondary intersubjectivity, where an infant’s affective states are communicated to a partner, and vice versa, by body language, facial expression and vocalising in a two-way turn-taking pattern known as a ‘proto-conversation’ (Simpson 1995). Biemans defined these interaction behaviours in a hierarchical set of ‘principles of attuned interactions and guidance’ (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011), and developed an intervention (Video home training) based on them. These attunement principles can be summarised as:

  • Initiative and reception (being attentive; positive body language; positive verbal language; naming; eye contact; giving and receiving information)
  • Interaction (taking turns; cooperation; forming a group)
  • Giving guidance (taking initiative; developing effective learners; attuned guiding and leading; discussion; conflict management) (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011).

See Figure 1 below for a simple illustration, which draws on the imagery of a child’s set of stacking rings; each of the smaller rings at the top requires to be supported by the larger ones below, giving the completed stack its stability. This visual metaphor describes the hierarchical nature of the principles of attuned interactions and guidance.

Figure 1 Simplified hierarchical chart of the Principles of attuned interactions and guidance

The VIG technique consists of taking short video footage of interaction partners in an everyday situation, and micro-analysing this for exemplars of successful (‘better than usual’) interactions, based on the attunement principles and linked to the client’s ‘helping question’ or goal. These edited clips are shared with the client in a reflective discussion in order to encourage their generalisation and extension, making use of self-modeling theory (Dowrick 1999; Togneri and Montgomery 2001) which proposes that viewing images of oneself performing optimally increases the likelihood of those behaviours being increased.

VIG has been shown to enhance communication in a range of contexts including families, schools, care and corporate settings (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011). However, the use of video has ethical dimensions, both with respect to ownership of the material and in terms of power relationships. For this reason VIG has strict protocols, including the signing of video permission forms. Visual images are very powerful; hence great responsibility devolves upon the guider. Brons (1999) describes age differences in reactions of pupils to being videoed, which can include acting for the camera by younger children or resistance by older children and adolescents.

2.1 Video as a tool for training

Video is increasingly used as a training tool. Vassilas and Ho (2000) reviewed research on interviewing skills and found that video-feedback-trained students were more likely to use open-ended questions and to facilitate the interview, compared with a traditional training group;

“video feedback training appears to be most effective when those being trained are provided with a clear model, in which it is made explicit what the component skills are that they are expected to attain” (Gask 1998, cited in Vassilas and Ho 2000 p 305).

It was considered that paired writing could benefit from video feedback training in a similar way. 


The pilot scheme was based on Keith Topping’s book Paired reading, writing and spelling: The handbook for teachers and parents (1995). Paired writing is a system designed for parent- or peer-tutoring of writing of any sort, from creative English composition to technical scientific writing. It is intended to support aspects of the writing process that the immature writer might struggle with, for example ideas generation, text organisation and meta-cognitive knowledge of the writing process (Englert and Raphael, 1988, cited in Topping 1995).

The aim of this method is that “the whole should be more than the sum of its parts” (Topping, 1995, p. 95), or in other words that a pair should produce a piece of writing that is higher in quality than could have been produced from independent work.

Topping (1999) proposes that paired writing capitalises upon children’s natural inclinations to help each other, and cites research evidence to support the claim that children are capable of doing so. Taking a Vygotskian perspective, paired writing is a method that views learning as an interactive process. Sutherland and Topping (1999) also discuss a Piagetian perspective in relation to paired writing, as an important aspect of the collaborative writing process is cognitive conflict, which should become resolved through discussion and dialogue. This in turn may lead to reformulation and evaluation of ideas through a process of assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration.

The handbook sets the scheme out in great detail, and provides a paired writing flowchart. Topping (1995) advises that pairs should be trained, and their subsequent practice monitored to ensure the system is strictly followed. Sutherland and Topping (1999) also emphasise the importance of demonstration during training, and of providing a clear structured method. However, there is little information on training methodology, which may lead to inconsistency of practice.

3.1 What are the advantages of paired writing? 

Topping (1995) promises a great deal in terms of positive outcomes from this system:

  • The interactive nature of paired writing is proposed to lead to a greater time spent ‘on task’, subsequently reducing “dithering, head-scratching, staring out of the window, and blind panic at the sight of a blank piece of paper” (Topping, 1995, p. 95).
  • Continuity of working will significantly increase through the use of paired writing.
  • The experience of collaborating in pairs is supportive and will reduce anxiety about writing.
  • It provides immediate support to pupils through constant feedback and cross checking.

It can also reduce the marking burden through the use of peer evaluation. According to Sutherland and Topping (1999) the reliability and validity of peer evaluation is comparable to that of teacher evaluation.

It is clear, therefore, that paired writing promises advantages in terms of both the writing process as well as in terms of the end product.

3.2 How effective is paired writing?

Yarrow and Topping (2001) compared students who took part in a six week paired writing project with a randomly assigned control group who only experienced the initial training (a class of 28 10 and 11 year olds). They found that both groups experienced significant gains in their writing pre- to post-project, but that there was significant added value for the experimental group. In addition, they also found that those who took part in the paired writing scheme experienced an increase in their self-esteem as writers.


4.1 The paired writing method 

Paired writing follows six sequential stages. These are (1) the generation of ideas, (2) the writing of a first draft, (3) reading this draft together, (4) editing the draft, (5) producing a best copy and (6) evaluation. This was made into a poster to be mounted on the wall in the classroom for the entire duration of the pilot study (see Figure 2 below). Visual icons were chosen to represent each of the stages, with a central icon denoting listening skills at each stage of the project. Additional smaller posters, which summarised the steps for each of the paired writing stages, were added to the wall display as each stage was taught. The authors did not diverge from Topping’s method in terms of the order of steps, but they did simplify what was required at each step in order to tailor the system to the characteristics of the class. For example, in the evaluation process first the authors role-played examples of both helpful positive and inappropriate negative comments, for the pupils to reflect on in discussion. Then pupils were given printed sheets with spider charts for them to note the things they liked about a piece of writing, and suggestions for improving it even further, in a ratio of 3:1.

Figure 2: Pictorial representation of the six stages of paired writing 4.2 Time-scale

The pilot scheme took place during six teaching weeks. The authors visited the class once a week either to conduct or to observe a paired writing teaching session. The class teacher conducted either one or two additional paired writing practice sessions during each week.

4.3 Teaching methods used

Various teaching methods were used during the pilot project. The sessions taught by the authors in weeks 1, 3 and 6 included the use of PowerPoint, role-play, direct teaching and video. As this was a class that required support in listening, a variety of methods were used within any one session in order to sustain attention. The lessons given by the class teacher included direct teaching and a range of activities.

4.4 Application of Video Interaction Guidance 

The second paired writing session was videoed and selected clips were shared with the class at the third session. A further ‘shared review’ of selected video clips was incorporated into Week 6. This enabled the authors to use the first shared review session as training in the identification of the pupils’ use of the attunement principles – or ‘partnership skills’ as the class called them – and then to evaluate their progress in identifying these independently in the final shared review session. The pairs were videoed whilst working on paired writing, focusing on different pairs in turn and ensuring that all those who were willing were videoed (one pair refused and this was respected). The videoing was done as unobtrusively as possible, by holding the camera at waist height (when standing) without using the viewfinder. The videos were then edited to exemplify successful use of the attunement principles, and these clips were shown to the class, referring to a wall chart that displayed each principle in its hierarchical place in a pyramid (see Figure 1 above). In the first shared review (session 2) the attunement principles were identified in hierarchical order, starting from the base and moving up, by captions preceding each clip – for example: “What are these three examples showing?” followed by three stills, then the answer: “Making eye contact”. In the second video compilation (session 6) the clips were shown in random order without on-screen commentary, and the children’s task was to mark a checklist of the attunement principles with the initials of a participant who was demonstrating each one, or in other words to identify exemplars of the attunement principles independently.

4.5 Data collected

A variety of data was collected in order to evaluate the effectiveness of using Video Interaction Guidance in a whole-class paired writing setting:

  • Videos of paired writing practice, with pupils’ checklists
  • Pupils’ evaluation survey
  • Class teacher’s evaluation based on samples of writing pre- and post-project

Firstly the two edited videos showing the children’s use of the attunement principles were compared. The first evaluation criterion was to compare evidence from both videos of the class members’ use of the attunement principles in their interactions. The second was to see whether they had gained in ability to identify the attunement principles between the first and second videos. The next type of data collected was from the pupils’ written evaluations of the paired writing project. Finally the class teacher wrote a full evaluation of the pilot scheme, referring to the pupils’ pre- and post- writing samples as well as giving his general impressions.

5.0 OUTCOMES – the effectiveness and impact of applying Video Interaction Guidance to paired writing 

The outcomes of the various evaluations were grouped into the five themes identified in the aims and objectives:

5.1. Collaborative working

Both the first and the second compilations of video clips (sessions 2 & 6) evidenced the effective use of attunement principles by the children; however the random sampling methods meant that meaningful comparison between the two was not possible. In both compilations examples of interactions were found from each part of the ‘pyramid’ (see Figure 1 above), starting at the base with giving attention and finishing at the top with guiding. With the second compilation, the children were not only able to identify the attunement principles independently, but they also engaged in thoughtful debate about higher order interaction skills. For example, when discussing whether one pupil was paying full attention if he was not giving sustained eye contact, they decided that to do so would be to stare, and that it is all right to look away when thinking, as happened in this example. They were able to answer higher order (embedded) questions, such as how could they tell one pupil was attending to what her partner was saying, by replying that she was clearly writing down what he was saying.

In their evaluations of the pilot scheme twelve pupils commented positively on the use of video to help them with their interaction skills. Five made negative comments and three made no comment. Positive comments included:

“I liked to be filmed, because I can see how I work with people and what standerd (sic) I am in.”

“When we got filmed and then saw ourselves on the tv I thought I done quite well.”

“I also liked being on camera because if there was anything i (sic) seen i could improve and improve it next time.”

”I thought going on camera was fun because you can see yourself on t.v. and see what your (sic) really like.”

“I think being recorded on video camera was quit (sic) good as well because you could see if you worked well.”

“I would like to change my body language because I should pay more attetion (sic) to the partners. I think we should change listening skills because some times we talk a bit too much, and we should listen more and feed the informattoin (sic) in.”

These comments range from simple enjoyment of seeing oneself on camera to more thoughtful meta-cognitive reflections on body language, paying attention, listening skills and self-improvement. A smaller number made no comment on the videoing component or else commented negatively:

“I also think that they sometimes take the tape recorder too close to you cause it makes you feel nervous.”

“I would like to change the camara (sic) because it imbaraisis (sic) people.”

Perhaps for a minority the whole-class aspect of viewing the video was off-putting; they may have preferred to view their videos individually or in pairs.

The class teacher’s evaluation of the pilot scheme was particularly positive about the improvement in the pupils’ interaction skills and the contribution of videoing to this process:

“Even if the writing had been of the exact same standard this would still have been a worthwhile exercise because the class learned and implemented a vast range of skills that they had not used before, or had not used well. I now feel that the class are quite skilled at collaborative work. They are much more aware of the way they should use their voice and how they should position their body when working with a partner.

…….Video evidence. This was brilliant. The pupils really benefited from the opportunity to see themselves on video working at something well, and then reflect upon it.

……..There are also the personal and social benefits of working well with a partner.”

This mirrors the findings from the video evidence and from the children’s evaluations, namely that through using Video Interaction Guidance with a whole class the attunement principles of effective interactions could be exemplified, identified and reflected upon, leading to improved collaborative working.

5.2. Quality of writing

The samples of writing compared were from the same genre, a set of instructions. Before the scheme took place, the pupils had written instructions on how to carry out a piece of work they had recently completed in art, for example, ‘How to draw the back of someone’s head’, or ‘How to make a mosaic face using beans’. These pieces of work were completed immediately prior to the paired writing scheme beginning, and were therefore considered to be exemplars of pre-scheme independent writing. The post-scheme instructions were about ‘How to do paired writing’. It was thought that this topic would serve as a useful addition to the pupils’ evaluation of the paired writing scheme, and also give insight into their understanding of what the scheme was for.

Information on writing quality was obtained from the class teacher’s written evaluation at the end of the pilot scheme, based on these writings and also on his general observations during the project. In brief, the teacher reported that: 

  • “The pupils made good use of the ideas map and used this in their planning.
  • “Writing was of a similar length to that which they would have produced independently, but there was an enriched pupil vocabulary.
  • “The whole was greater than the sum of the parts
  • “The editing phase worked well for those of poorer ability
  • “More advanced writers showed evidence of reflection upon their work and implementing changes in their final copy.
  • “Pupils and teacher alike were pleased with final copies.
  • “With further opportunities and some changes to the scheme (to be discussed) the writing will improve further.”

5.3. Time on task

The class teacher reported that time on task did increase for most pupils. He commented specifically on the planning format – the ideas map – which enabled the pupils to be focused on the job at hand.

5.4. Continuity of work

Despite a reported improvement in time on task, the class teacher also reported that the continuity of working would have been further improved if the ideas on the ideas map had been numbered. This was an aspect of the paired writing method that the teacher had neglected, but reported he would include as a step in future.

 5.5. Evaluation and feedback skills

The class showed a good understanding of the benefits of outweighing the number of comments about development needs (‘working points’) by praise comments (‘we liked’). This was apparent in the discussion following the authors’ role-play exercise of both helpful and inappropriate feedback comments. They then filled in the ‘We liked’ / ‘working points’ spider charts appropriately when evaluating a peer’s piece of writing, with a ratio of approximately three positives to one negative. Finally the comments on their instructions for how to do paired writing reflected this, for example:

“Now youre (sic) going to Evaluate it. you’re going to congratulate each other and find 10 things yo (sic) like about and think of 3 things you could work on next time”


6.1 Paired writing

The data indicated that the paired writing scheme benefited this class of Primary 6 youngsters. From the class teacher’s evaluation, time on task and quality of writing in particular improved.

With regards to the paired writing method, upon reflection, the use of a simplified flow-chart as opposed to the one which Topping supplies was a sensible decision. This worked well, and it can only be speculated that the use of the original flowchart in the handbook would have been too complex, and the system would not have been maintained. This view is supported by the fact that the class progressed through learning the paired writing system at a slower pace than Topping advises.

Various aspects of the paired writing method did not work well with the class and flexibility was required. It had originally been intended to arrange children in pairs of the same-ability, and to swap pairs throughout the scheme. However, the resulting confusion of roles led to a decision to create fixed pairs. This confusion predominantly stemmed from Topping’s terminology ‘writer’ and ‘helper’; the children could not understand that even though they had the pencil in their hand and were doing the writing, they were actually the ‘helper’, and that when they were planning but not physically writing, they were the ‘writer’. In any future replication, these terms could be changed to ‘thinker’ and ‘scribe’.

With regards to training, the variety of methods used worked well in maintaining the attention of the class. The use of PowerPoint and video were new media for this class and this helped to focus concentration. In addition, the teaching of the paired writing system was divided equally between the authors and the class teacher, which led to a feeling of joint ownership of the pilot scheme.

Finally, it could be speculated that in the long term the teacher’s enthusiasm for the paired writing scheme and his belief that the class’s writing quality had improved was transmitted to the pupils thus increasing their confidence and motivation.

6.2 The use of VIG to improve paired writing

The class teacher’s enthusiasm for the use of VIG to improve pupils’ collaborative skills is an endorsement of this approach. The shared review of positive interactions enabled the pupils to develop greater awareness of their use of the attunement principles, which in turn led to generalisation and extension through self-modeling. Although there was no non-videoed control group for comparison, it did appear that this was an effective method of training, with pupils both exemplifying and identifying the component interaction skills they were being taught.

Nevertheless it was also found to be a negative experience by a few pupils, who were self-conscious when being videoed or embarrassed by seeing themselves on video in a whole-class setting. It is possible these children may have accepted an offer of more individualised video work; on ethical grounds this option should have been made available, and pupil as well as parent consent forms should have been used. This relates to the issue of self-consciousness; according to Brons (1999) young children who are aware of being videoed may ‘act for the camera’ and older children or adolescents may resist. Both reactions were in evidence in this class. The class teacher had commented positively on the unobtrusive method of videoing; it had added advantages of videoing the sitting pupils at their eye-level, with the power differential correspondingly neutral, and of capturing a half-body frame, omitting too much distracting detail. However given that a few pupils expressed negative feelings about the video element in their evaluations the deeper ethical considerations should have been given more weight.

In the final stage of training in VIG, trainees are encouraged to be creative in their application of the method, and to combine VIG with other approaches that share similar values and theoretical underpinnings, in order to embed the use of VIG in their professional practice. For example, there is a chapter on combining VIG and narrative theory in the VIG book (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011). This pilot project on applying VIG to a whole-class paired writing project demonstrates another example of how VIG’s focus on attuned interactions can enhance the effectiveness of other methods. It is possible that the theoretical underpinnings of both these interventions, sharing common roots in social learning theory, complemented each other to bring about the positive changes found.


It was disappointing that a statistical assessment of attunement principles and of writing quality was not possible in this project, because of time and sampling methods. In any case, the absence of a control group would have lessened the power of any statistically significant findings. 


It would be interesting to repeat this study with some adaptations; the ethical stance should guide these amendments. For example, pupils could be involved as co-researchers, carrying out more of the VIG elements, such as recording and editing video of each other with support from a VIG guider. Control groups of parallel classes following a traditional paired writing scheme as laid out by Topping would give more weight to data analyses.


Following this pilot project it appears that the application of Video Interaction Guidance to paired writing methodology improves the quality of both the writing and the pupils’ interactions. The whole-class use of VIG described in this article proved successful in improving the class’s cooperation skills, hence enabling them to support each other to achieve higher quality in their work output.

“if your doing the writ job then fab”

(quote from a P6 pupil)


Brons, C. (1999) Camera training. Groningen: Christine Brons bv.

Crain, W. (2000) Theories of devolvement: concepts and applications (4th Edition). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Dowrick, P.D., (1999) ‘A review of self modeling and related interventions’ Applied and preventive psychology Vol.8 Issue 1 pp. 23-39

Garton, A.F. (2004) Exploring cognitive development; the child as problem solver. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kennedy, H., Landor, M. and Todd, L. (2011) Video Interaction Guidance: a relationship-based intervention to promote attunement, empathy and wellbeing. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Simpson, R. (1995) What is going on here? Presentation to the Association for Child Psychology and Psychiatry; Edinburgh.

Sutherland, J.A. and Topping, K. J. (1999) Collaborative creative writing in eight-year-olds: comparing cross-ability fixed role and same-ability reciprocal role pairing. Journal of Research in Reading, 22 (2) pp. 154-179.

Togneri, K. and Montgomery, S. (2001) An evaluation into the use of video interaction guidance (SPIN) in the assessment and ongoing monitoring for children within the autistic continuum Presentation to VIGuk International Conference, Dundee, 2001.

Topping, K, (1995) Paired reading, spelling and writing; the handbook for teachers and parents London: Cassell.

Vassilas C. and Ho, L. (2000) Video for teaching purposes Advances in psychiatric treatment 6 pp. 304-311.

Wels, Paul M. A. 2002 (translation Lee Ann Weeks) Helping with a camera: the use of video for family intervention Nijmegen: Nijmegen University Press

Yarrow, F. and Topping, K.J. (2001) Collaborative Writing: The effects of metacognitive prompting and structured peer interaction. British Journal of Educational Psychology (2001) 71, pp. 261-282.


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