Filming and analysing classroom behaviour of children with emotional difficulties is helping teachers to understand subtle interactions. Bill Mackie reports.
The agitated boy on the video screen appeared to be angrily refusing to stop a game he was playing, apparently resisting and ignoring the patient efforts of his teacher. However, the camera captured the almost imperceptible eye contacts he made with the woman.
To a trained observer, the child, whose records indicated he would never communicate positively with anyone, was apparently doing just that, in his own way. He was checking his teacher's reaction - and the camera - to see what would happen next.
"This occurred during only 15 seconds of video," explains Sandra Bruce, who had been behind the camera in the mainstream Moray school classroom. "It was a start and we were able to take it from there."
Mrs Bruce, who specialises in teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, was demonstrating the progress achieved using a psychologically-based observation and interactive video technique.
The Scottish Project in Viewing Interaction Positively (SPINVIP) is an internationally recognised system, developed originally in The Netherlands and now prominent across Europe and in the United States. In Scotland it took off in the Dundee area under two educational psychologists and is spreading to other parts. The approach has a wide professional application, suitable in health visiting, speech therapy, social work and psychology.
The technique is simple. A class of youngsters with their teachers and auxiliaries is filmed, with full consent by all concerned. The tape is analysed and edited by Mrs Bruce, picking out salient moments she has detected. She discusses the tape with the teacher, who can then act on what she has seen. Their viewing session is also filmed and analyse.
"What I video aren't special activities. Based on a series of contact principles, we look for interactions between the children and between the children and the teacher or auxiliaries in a regular environment," she says.
"If you are looking at teachers, you want to see how they respond to children's initiatives, how they listen and then move things forward.
"With the children, the feedback concentrates on how they are listening, how they accept suggestions and how they co-operate.
"The camera often picks up moments that a busy teacher is unaware of but which, in the feedback, provide a clue to the progress of a child.
"SPIN can be a teaching aid or it can be whatever you want it to be."
Douglas Wilson, Moray's inclusion and support manager, who is based at Beechbrae Education Centre in Elgin, believes the project is a method of looking at difficult children in a positive way. "It is the opposite of saying this child is bad and misbehaving. In fact, we are saying this child is doing many positive things; how can we build on that?" he says.
"It may well be that as an outcome of the McCrone report and the focus on continuing development, we could train teaching staff in SPIN under that umbrella."
Mrs Bruce, who underwent intensive training in Cupar, Fife - part of it conducted by a member of the Dutch organisation which awards accreditation - to become Moray's first qualified trainer in the technique, is now training another teacher to use it.
And the boy in the video? After eight weeks he could be seen engaging in lessons, anticipating next moves and enjoying being part of the class.
Mrs Bruce says: "This child came with a horrendous record of not co-operating. His teacher was highly skilled and it is likely he would have progressed eventually. Without the SPIN technique I believe it would have taken longer."