Friday 30 May 2014

Things to do in New York City

Background Information: We went for six nights to NYC in Easter 2014.  That's when this blog post was first written. The sun shone for six of the days and we had one day of rain and snow.  We stayed in the Broadway Plaza Hotel which is midtown and so was perfect for walking uptown or downtown.  It was also right near a subway station which we used daily to get elsewhere.  These lists come with the disclaimer that we didn't go everywhere in NYC.  We booked a lot of this in advance and pack tonnes of trips into our seven days.  These may not be the best things in NYC but they were the best things we experienced on a limited budget and from our midtown location.
Since then, we've returned to NYC twice. Once in August 2017 for 7 nights and then again at Christmas/New Years 2018 for 6 nights. We absolutely love the place and can't get enough of it. We've stayed loyal to the Broadway Plaza Hotel and can't recommend the place highly enough. I've added updates since 2014 in italics so you can track our thinking! Easter is still my favourite time to go  - Summer was very hot and Christmas was so busy. 

5 Free Things To Do in NYC 
1) 9/11 Memorial - get your pass beforehand.  Security is tight. Since 2014 this has now changed. You no longer need a pass to go to the memorial. 
2) Walk the HighLine - an abandoned railway line which has been done-up so it's now a romantic half-mile walk through the city rooftops. This is still one of our favourite things to do. 
3) Central Park ($2 map is worth it). Again, a firm favourite. 
4) The Staten Island Ferry - good views of the Statue of Liberty and is free. Most people go around from arrivals to departures and get straight back on the next ferry back to Manhattan. Instead, we decided to take a walk around Staten Island and found the 9/11 memorial and some incredible views across the water. 
5) Find the friends building (Grove Street in Greenwich Village) and the Ghostbusters firehouse (where Varick street and West Broadway cross). We always go back here - it's also a really lovely part of town. 
The view from the 9/11 memorial on Staten Island
 5 Paid-For Activities (prices are approximate for each ticket)
1) WTC Tribute Center Tour (~$20) - people who were in the are on the day tell you their story and take you around the memorial.  This was such a poignant and important addition to our visit to the memorial.  You also get access to Tribute Center which has some exhibitions and donated items. I'm not sure this is still there now. Instead, go for a tour of the 9/11 Museum. Make sure you book in advance for the tour but it was so worth it. 
2) Go to a sports game. We did Nets vs Knicks (basketball) and Yankees vs Red Sox (baseball). (~$50). Since 2014, we have see the Yankees play plenty of times as well as watching the NY Rangers ($150 per ticket for us - ouch!) and NYCFC soccer which is played at the Yankee Stadium.  We loved the ice hockey but it was so expensive. Very interesting seeing a baseball stadium turned into a soccer stadium! 
3) Watch a Broadway show. We did Wicked in limited view seats. ($75-200). We've seen a few shows since and always bought our tickets online in advance for approx $80 each. We've always found the booths more expensive and a gamble  - we've never bought from them although I know lots of people have. 
4) Go up to an observatory. We did Empire State and Rockefeller. The Rock was better. (~$30). Now One World Trade Center is completed you can also go up there.  We always do The Rock as it's the best view in town but the view from One World is pretty awesome looking over the water. 
5) Take the Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry. (~$20)

We'd also recommend, if you're there around Christmas, booking for the 8am slot at the Wollman's Ice Rink in Central Park. 
Yankee Stadium
NY Rangers ice hockey at Madison Square Garden
5 Reasonable Eateries
1) Square Diner (Next to Chambers St and the Ghostbusters firehouse) - the only true diner we found. Food was amazing. We've been back time and again and also seen the diner on a few movies and Law and Order SVU. 
2) Mustang Sally's (on 7th Ave and 20something st) - Great bar that serves delicious, cheap food. Sally's has now closed :( However, we can recommend the wings at Lansdowne Road on 10th/43rd. 
3) Azalea (Next to Wicked theatre - the cast sometime drink and dine there) - Italian.
4) Serafina (in the meatpacking district on Gansevoort Street) - delicious pizza at a good price.
5) Ellen's Stardust Diner (Broadway and 51st) - the waitstaff sing while you eat amazing food. We go here every least twice. Longest we've queued is an hour but that was at Christmas time. Brunch is great and has a shorter queue. 

We would now also add Junior's for a cheesecake (ours is often at 1am!) and the Aria wine bar for food in Hell's Kitchen. 
Cheesecake at Junior's! 
5 Things we saved for next time (or didn't have time to do!)
1) Katz Deli (from when Harry met Sally). We have since been - it's brilliant. Aim for just before or after normal lunch time for 
2) Get off at Liberty and Ellis Island. This was very interesting but we've only done it once. 
3) Walk the Brooklyn bridge. We walked all the way from the Broadway Plaza Hotel (midtown) to the start of the bridge, which is near a lot of SVU filming locations, to Brooklyn and back.  Such a long walk but so many incredible views. We also bought some lovely artwork on the Manhattan side of the bridge. 
4) WTC Museum (opening May 24th 2014). Highly recommended as I said above - book a tour if you can. 
5) Get tickets to a TV filming (SNL, Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and GMA all film in NYC but you either get tickets beforehand or queue for ages) - go to the Rockefeller Center for information. We've still never done this! 

We've still never seen the Knicks, despite having tickets and having to cancel because we postponed our holiday due to the drones. 
Brooklyn Bridge
P.S. I know this is NOTHING to do with Education but I had to put it somewhere! Also I will go through and add links at some point!

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Very Late Thoughts on the Observation Game

Ever since OfSTEd, at a meeting with education bloggers, confirmed that in most cases inspectors should not be giving judgements on individual lessons, I have deliberated again and again about my thoughts on the matter.  I read the blogs of those in the meeting, followed by Mike Cladingbowl’s Guardian article and then the blogs of “mere mortal” teachers, those of us in the classroom day in and day out.  As I read each article, the same question went through my head – is this a good idea or a bad idea?

When I had two PGCE students in March, I came to think about observations again.  Their university required me to give four lesson judgements and a judgement per standard in two separate reports.   As I was sat there giving them feedback from their first observation, I saw what I know I have done in many of my own feedback sessions; they waited for the grading and reacted to it. 

I did it throughout my NQT observations.  Good = nod and smile. Outstanding = “YES”.  Satisfactory = “ok” and head down.  Without the written feedback I received from my mentor, I couldn’t remember my strengths or areas for development.  I remembered the judgement.  The judgement defined my teaching…for six weeks before the next observation. Did the judgement change my teaching? NO. Did the judgement change my confidence and pride? Yes – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.  The same was true for the students.

So, as I sat there giving meaningful and constructive feedback to these lovely PGCE students so early in their teaching careers, my mind was made up about observations.  For them, observation process would have been much more effective without an observation grade.  That way, the focus would have been on improving.  Rather than aiming for a “good” grade or an “outstanding” grade, my students would have focused solely on what they needed to do to improve.  Their confidence wouldn’t have been shattered or their pride overflowing.    Their immediate next step would have been what they remembered and worked towards, with my guidance.

My own performance management observations this year show how fluid and unreliable the grades are.  In three lessons I’ve been given three different grades.  They were fair grades and were exactly what I would have given myself.  So what grade would my teaching overall be? Am I an “outstanding” teacher? Maybe good? Or does my teaching require improvement?  In any lesson, I’d say the latter.  Not in the “used-to-be-satisfactory” sense of the word, but because there’s always something I can do to improve.  Removing a grade from the observation process would mean the focus is shifted from attainment to improvement. 

If that were the case, I wonder if teachers would welcome more observations. I know I certainly would. After all, it’s the negative grades we’re all afraid of.  I would love to be observed by more-experienced teachers in a formative way, where the aim for both of us is to make improvements.  That would encourage me to do what I always do rather than perform for the grade.  It would be an extra pair of eyes in my classroom giving me an insight into my teaching as opposed to someone making a judgement and checking off a tick list. Surely then, the more often someone comes into your classroom, the more rounded their view is of the teaching and learning that occurs.  Therefore, when it comes to a time for making necessary judgements, as I understand there is still a need for, they will have the clearest view of your impact on learning.  

I realise that removing judgements could be difficult when it comes to performance management however there are schools which have done this successfully and whose professional development programmes sound incredibly formative and collaborative.  They sound like a pleasure rather than a chore and are solely aimed at improving teaching and learning.  I hope that OfSTEd’s original announcement was to create that atmosphere in more schools, rather than just shock and shake-up the education world. 

Original post from the meeting with OfSTEd -
A few other posts about observations -