Friday, 30 May 2014

Things to do in New York City

Background Information: We went for six nights in Easter 2014.  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.  At the end of the post you can see a preview of the photo book we had made.

5 Free Things To Do in NYC 
1) 9/11 Memorial - get your pass beforehand.  Security is tight. 
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. 
3) Central Park ($2 map is worth it).
4) The Staten Island Ferry - good views of the Statue of Liberty and is free.
5) Find the friends building (Grove Street in Greenwich Village) and the Ghostbusters firehouse (where Varick street and West Broadway cross).

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. 
2) Go to a sports game. We did Nets vs Knicks (basketball) and Yankees vs Red Sox (baseball). (~$50)
3) Watch a Broadway show. We did Wicked in limited view seats. ($75-200)
4) Go up to an observatory. We did Empire State and Rockefeller. The Rock was better. (~$30)
5) Take the Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry. (~$20)

5 Reasonable Eateries
1) Square Diner (Next to Chambers St and the Ghostbusters firehouse) - the only true diner we found. Food was amazing. 
2) Mustang Sally's (on 7th Ave and 20something st) - Great bar that serves delicious, cheap food.
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. 

5 Things we saved for next time (or didn't have time to do!)
1) Katz Deli (from when Harry met Sally).
2) Get off at Liberty and Ellis Island.
3) Walk the Brooklyn bridge.
4) WTC Museum (opening May 24th 2014).
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) - got to the Rockefeller Center for information.

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 -