Tackling Lost Class Time on Half Days

Today, I want to share with you how I pre-plan parts of my year for optimal success. For way too many years, those early release, late starts, or half days have been the bane of my existence. These days coupled with the shortened 2 or 3 day weeks have always left me wondering why I ran out of time at the end of the year. Well no more!

Yearly Planning

A few weeks ago I shared my love of Traci Clausen's Yearly Curriculum Planner. Seriously, look how beautiful my yearly plan looks!  One page, full color, simple to use, and it always impresses my principal. Read my post on how to create a yearly plan.

If you look closely at the picture above you will notice there are some teeny tiny weeks in there. Some of those squares I left blank. I am still planning. Others I have filled in. You can't see those pesky early release days but they are there every other week.

The Problem: Early Release

Early release days allow teachers to attend professional development and meetings that we do not have time to attend during lunch or specials. It is also the only time that the entire staff can be together to discuss things. 

However, it also shortens the amount of instructional minutes in a given day. You all know how it is... you have 90 minutes of teaching and only 40 minutes to teach it. You try to cram it in but alas the only thing that happens is that both you and the student are stressed. 

The Problem: Shortened Weeks

Holidays happen throughout the year and to be honest... we all need a break. Our brains are on overload and they need a rest. Four day weeks are fine but why-oh-why do they have 2 or 3 day weeks? Seriously, some school board member needs to stand up and say enough! The teachers and students can't handle the agony!

We all know that a 2-3 day week tends to result in teachers battling for the student's attention as they are already on break mentally. They are daydreaming and planning their adventures. I say just give us the whole week but so far my vote hasn't counted. 

The Problem: Holidays and Fun Activities

I am addicted to pinterest like thousands of other teachers. I can't help it. There are just too many good ideas not to pursue. I pin things that I want to do for upcoming holidays or that just look like a great fun extension to our learning. However, our curriculum and the standards suck up all of our time and those great ideas often get left on a pin board. 

The Solution

Last year I came up with THE. BEST. PLAN. EVER! I maybe biased but I am so happy with how my year turned out. My principal agreed to allow me to test out my ideas and she too loved how it worked out. 

Let's take a step back and look at how I created that long range plan. 

Most of my curriculum gives me an ideal number of days or sessions it should take to cover the specific content within a unit or chapter. I write these numbers down and then turn them into number of weeks. For example, I teach 3 units of science, each unit is x many days. I then go to my calendar and begin counting. I SKIP all the early release days and those 2-3 day weeks. 

YES, do not count them when creating your long range plan!

Early Release Days

I use these days for mini-lessons! Genius I know! You know all of those things that you know you need to teach and every PD you walk into they say "just make a mini-lesson" .... well here is your built in mini-lesson time frame!

What do I teach for many lessons? 

Early Release: Math

The structure for early release days in my classroom is completely different than what I do during a normal school day. Early Release days are 100% student centered and student choice. This is when the students use their goals and determine the direction of their own learning. 

My district has focus standards. These are the standards that every student should have mastered. I insert these focus standards into my early release schedule. One standard per early release day. I create a bingo board for my students with their options on it. My students have been trained to complete these items on their own. I have on that board 25 options that all relate to that standard. My students pick and choose the activities that will help them master the activities. They must complete at least 5 but can complete more. 

 Early Release: Science

During the first semester we work in our interactive notebooks completing the Science Basics section. This goes over a particular skill set required for understanding how to complete labs, lab safety, how-to sessions for tools, and focusing on communicating efficiently and effectively. 

During the second semester, we work on STEM projects. Oh yea! Those fun projects you see all over pinterest come alive in my classroom. We also study famous scientists and have guest speakers visit us. 

Early Release: Social Studies

It's time to get our news on! This is when we watch and talk about current events. We discuss what is going on with the world. We map out where things are happening. We make connections. We debate.

I also focus on classroom culture building. This is the time when we track our data, set our goals, write reflections, and learn about our character and growth mindset. 

Holidays & Projects

We still have those shortened weeks to deal with. I use these weeks for a couple different things. 

First, they make great review/catch up weeks. If I get behind I know I have several of these scattered throughout the year. Standardized testing review... built right in. These are the weeks that I check to make sure they are on track. 

Special holiday projects go here. I may have to celebrate late or early depending upon the holiday but I pop these pinterest ideas in here. I also add in longer STEM projects and presentations here. 

All of those great centers that I never have time for. Here is my time. I get those out and ask my students to create their own bingo boards of options for the week. I put them in charge of their learning. 


By changing the day-to-day routine of assignments and activities in my classrooms and treating these days as special events worthy of attention, I have gained my students attention. No longer are we staring at the clock counting down the minutes, now we have to set a timer to leave on time. 

Note: I used a free meme generator to create the meme above. I know some teachers use this with their students but I am warning you not all of it is school appropriate. 

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