Our Process: Core Skills in the Discover Studio

Core Skills - 3 children sitting at computers learning

Written by Lisa Bean

Lisa is the founder and head of school for IGNITE: An Acton Academy. She is a Mom of two boys, an entrepreneur, and a coach for high-performance businesses, leaders, and parents. She is passionate about re-defining education for the 21st century, and is adamant that learning be a fun and engaging experience that honours a child's unique strengths and passions.

May 4, 2022

Core skills like math, reading, writing (and, all communication) are foundational. They’re considered core because they make doing anything else you choose easier.

Take reading, for instance: there‘s an element of reading that comes into almost every other activity that you choose to do throughout the day. Following a recipe, sending an email, or researching your next vacation are all made more efficient with strong, foundational core skills.  

At Acton Academy, core skills are important, and about half of the elementary (Discover) studio’s typical day, often in the morning, is spent focused on them. 

We hold high standards, and learners must prove excellence and mastery before moving on to their next skill, or to the next studio. Learners continue real-world incorporation of their Core Skills as they move up the pyramid to work on Quests, Integration and Learn to Be aspects as shown in the graphic. 

Making Core Skills Learner Driven

Guides provide a structure for the day, week, and year. Feedback is always accepted from the learners and structures are kept fluid so there’s plenty of room to observe what’s working and what’s not and adapt as necessary.

For younger learners, there’s dedicated time and goals set for each core skill. Learners make choices about their long-term and short-term goals and then set out to choose what to work on first, second, and third, and if there’s extra time, where to invest it. As learners mature, they take on more responsibility and they earn the right to more freedom to decide where they invest their time. 

Guides provide choices on how core skills can be learned. The first session of the year is often spent in exploration, with it being encouraged to spend a bit of time working with each technology platform, or method for learning. Learners can then determine what tool or mix of tools works best for them. 

Setting Goals and Measuring Progress

At the beginning of each year,session, week, and day, learners think through their goals for the time ahead. What do they want to accomplish? What will have the greatest impact? Where do they want or need to devote their time? 

They set goals that are dependent on the medium and activity they intend to do. For example, they may set an intention to read 20 pages of ‘Harry Potter: The Chamber of Secrets,” or to finish “Dog Man: Unleashed” today. Their goals may be how far they want to get, or the amount of time they’ll invest, but what’s most important is building the habit of intentionality and goal-setting itself. 

Running partners (a buddy from the studio) meet to discuss goals at various points throughout the day and weeks. Running partners provide accountability to a standard of excellence, and practice challenging each other to raise the bar. 

Often some manner of point system is used (which the learners contribute to developing) to allow for ease of tracking and a fun gamification of the day. 

Over the course of their year(s) at Acton, learners work towards achieving badges that form a kind of checklist of skills they’ve mastered. The achievement of these badges provides a transcript of learning. 

Goal setting is a critical life skill. No matter what a learner ends up doing later in life, this goal setting habit will prove valuable, contributing to their long-term vision and short-term motivation. Goal setting helps us focus, and often allows us to connect those mundane but necessary actions to the bigger reason we are doing things.  


Number sense is developed with younger learners through hands-on Montessori manipulatives. Later on, adaptive technology platforms like Khan Academy or Dreambox are used, as well as interactive games and activities that bring math out of the theoretical and into the real world.  


The goal here is to learn to love reading – and that means reading anything and everything that the learner enjoys—comic books, magazines, graphic novels—anything goes. Once the love and habit of reading is established, learners begin to choose more challenging books. 

Foundational reading skills are learned through programs such as Waseca and adaptive technologies like Nessy Reading & Spelling and Lexia, however, most of our time is just spent with our noses in good books during ‘Drop Everything and Read’ time. Or, during book club when we can read and discuss our comprehension and provide book reviews to fellow learners. 


Write, write, write, and write some more!

We write and communicate for so many different reasons: Writing a speech, writing a screenplay for a film, writing reflections in your personal journal, writing articles, starting a blog, writing an email, writing thank you notes, etc. 

Learners grow through handwriting practice and typing platforms, and using journal prompts. Writers’ workshops have everyone working on big projects and discussing writing tools to increase effectiveness. And of course, quests and projects always have an element of writing and communication involved that’s often focused on an external, real-world audience. The best form of feedback comes from seeing if your writing got the job done in the real world. 

Was it intended to inspire? To persuade? To trigger a laugh? Or was it a personal reflection meant to help the learner get to know themselves better?

Our running partners and fellow learners offer critiques and suggestions based on the purpose of the writing project.  

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on at an Acton Academy, even in simple concepts such as Core Skills time. We’re constantly working to find the right intersection between structure and freedom. Many of these tools and methods have been developed by the learners themselves at various Acton Academies around the world. But what works for one school doesn’t always work in another so we commit to staying open to other possibilities, and to finding what works in the moment. 

If you’d like to learn more about IGNITE: An Acton Academy we invite you to reach out to us to schedule a conversation or a tour. We’re happy to help you determine if IGNITE is a good fit for your family. 

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