This is an assessment of Threering adapted and extended from a classmates post in APLING678 at UMass Boston.


  • Cloud-based tool reduces risk of lost work.
  • It’s free! (at least for now)
  • It works on a variety of devices (Android, iOS, computer), increasing accessibility for students.
  • The site/app are very intuitive in their design with little to no learning curve.
  • Teachers can create student and parent accounts so that they can view the work of that specific student.
  • Teachers can add private notes on each submission, allowing them to document growth.
  • The minimalist layout makes the information very readable to pleasing to the eye.
  • Especially great for art classes, as students can photograph their work for documentation without keeping the physical work.
  • Also allows easy audio recordings, so it could be beneficial for documenting oral communicative activities (even in groups).
  • All work is consolidated in one place, making it easy for teacher to review a classes’ work/individual student growth
  • Uploading work via the mobile app is very easy, just take a picture, then click on the appropriate (class, student- teacher account) tags.

As far as I can tell, here are the ‘cons’:

  • The portfolios are managed by the teacher, so if a student moves away and/or the teacher deletes their account at the end of the year, the student’s portfolio ceases to exist. I am looking for an approach which allows students to keep/maintain their portfolios beyond my course, so this is probably makes it a ‘no-go’ for me. ūüė¶
  • Tags are teacher-generated ahead of time, which prevents spontaneous tagging for new topics. It would be nice to have the option of adding tags while uploading work.

The Golden Tool

I had a crunch week this week. Several major assignments crunched together with existing work/life responsibilities and I found myself staring at a computer screen for an entire day on Saturday. However, I realized that my productivity did not bear any correlation to the amount of time I sat in front of the computer. I gave myself permission to get out of the house on Sunday.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a German architect who is doing an internship at an architecture firm in my town. He was elated to see another westerner. I asked him if he had seen the area, such as the lake and nearby mountains. He hadn’t, so I offered to drive him around sometime. He said he was free on Sunday mornings.

Today I took him sightseeing out of town. He is working extremely long hours at the firm, often until 3 or 4 in the morning. Recently, he told them that he cannot work later than 1 AM just for his own health and sanity. It turns out, he needed to break out of his own work prison as well. We both needed to experience some different, positive stimuli and give our bodies and brains the fresh air and nature that they needed.

On our way to the ocean (where we found nine fishing floats!), he told me about his educational experiences in Germany, and how his one major regret was that he did not realize how important languages would be to his future life. He said that all of the other subjects, mathematics, science, history, were not nearly as useful to him as his English or French. He became quite animated when he started talking about his English. He told me that he was a very poor student, and that today, while he values his proficiency, he feels that he is mangling grammar as he goes along. What was most important to him was how valuable a tool English was in connecting with people from essentially any country in the world. As he gesticulated wildly (very much unlike a German), he said that he felt English was such a great tool. In fact, it was the golden tool. The Golden Tool. That is probably the most generous and encouraging perspective I have ever heard someone take in regards to English as an international language.

It jogged my perspective a little bit. This could be my new sales pitch to junior high students. Study and use English. It’s the Golden Tool.

My German friend offered one additional perspective in regards to this universal tool. It does not serve him well here in Japan. As he put it, very often, English is the medium of communication between him and another person whose first language is neither English nor German. In those situations, he is able to use English as a tool to learn other words, to circumlocute in the direction of words that he does not know in English or in another language. Yet he said he is unable to do this in Japanese. Throughout Japan, English provides no easy detour around the language barrier.

Japan, you need to recognize that this tool called English is solid gold.

Navigating Japanese Ceremonies

            During your coming posting in Japan, you will be attending numerous ceremonies and events. These events will follow a predictable and strictly adhered to pattern that is uniform across Japan. It is possible that your duties will involve participating in one of these ceremonies. The following guide, based on Hymes’ (1974) SPEAKING model of ethnographic analysis, will give you a detailed understanding of the norms that dictate the opening and closing ceremonies that bookend any event here in Japan.

Setting and Scene

You are at a scheduled event somewhere in Japan. Perhaps it is a festival, an awards ceremony, a school graduation, a community concert, a company induction ceremony, groundbreaking on a new building, or a retirement party for a colleague. The nature of the specific ceremony is not important. Whatever the event, it will invariably have an opening and a closing ceremony, even if the event is relatively short. In Japanese society, these opening ceremonies (kaikaishiki) and closing ceremonies (heikaishiki) signify and delineate the perceived chronological boundaries of an event. What might seem surprising an outside observer is that these opening and closing ceremonies themselves must be formally opened and closed. The protocol is fastidiously adhered to, with a level of formality that sometimes may seem inappropriate to the casual nature of the event being started or finished. The practice serves a purpose in Japanese society, which has an extremely high focus on uncertainty avoidance and seeks out ‚Äúmaximum predictability‚ÄĚ as a cultural goal (Hofstede, 2001). It is very important to not simply be on time for any event, but to be early. If the event starts at 10:00, the opening ceremony will begin precisely one second after 10:00.


The participants are a combination of at least two individuals and an audience. One individual is the ceremony opener/closer. They are someone involved with the event but not of high status, such as a vice-principal or member of an organizing committee. This person will take the stage or podium and formally begin the ceremony. Another individual, who is typically someone of high status such as a principal or committee chair, will follow them. This person, the ceremony speaker, will make a very short speech. The existing hierarchy of the institution holding the ceremony typically predetermines the speaker. Finally, the opener/closer will return to the stage to conclude the ceremony. Typically, these same people will preside over both opening and closing ceremonies. Audience members in attendance are observers, and will give the speaker their silence and attention even though it is a fairly predictable and routine act.


The purpose of both opening and closing ceremonies are to give the audience and participants a clear and official understanding that the event is now underway, or that the event is now complete. The establishment of shared certainty is part of this. After the closing ceremony ends, there may be more clean-up work to do, or an after party to attend, but the participants are all aware that they are no longer involved in the so-called event. This outward understanding and delineation of ‚Äúevent time‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúnon-event time‚ÄĚ is the end which the ceremonies serve to bring about.

Act Sequence

Opening and closing ceremonies are typically short, often very short, in the range of one to three minutes. Depending on the size of the event, they may feature a short speech, a song performance, or an oath of sportsmanship, but can be as simple as a few words by the participants, which function as performative speech acts in bringing about the start of the event (Austin, 1962). These words of the opener/closer that ‚Äúperform‚ÄĚ the ceremony do not deviate significantly from a typical boilerplate phrasing that is shared and repeated at a wide variety of events across Japan. Here is a prototypical example of a basic standard phrasing for an opening ceremony, this one for a fictional school festival:

Opener/Closer: kore yori shibahama chuugakkou no dai ni-juu-go kai gakkousai no kaikaishiki wo hajimemasu. (From this point, we will begin the opening ceremony of the 25th annual Shibahama Junior High School Festival.)
Speaker:(Thanks those in attendance, comments on the weather, thanks any sponsors or assistants, requests for participants to be careful, encourages participants to do their best, etc.)
Opener/Closer: kore de shibahama chuugakkou no dai ni-juu-go kai gakkousai no kaikaishiki wo owarimasu. (This now completes the opening ceremony of the 25th annual Shibahama Junior High School festival.)


The spirit of these ceremonies is serious, with speakers who take the stage typically wearing suits, even at a sporting event. The tone of the opener/closer is flat, without any particular inflection or flourish in his or her speech. The speaker may take a tone of encouragement for the participants, or optimism for the events to come. The speaker will likely make some references to commonly shared knowledge, and make their speech broadly appealing if not particularly memorable.


The speakers in an opening or closing ceremony speak standard Japanese (hyoujungo) in a formal register. They will use both respect language (sonkeigo) and humble language, or kenjougo, to express their gratitude and polite deference to the participants, spectators, and honored guests of the event (Shibatani, 2005). While it is possible that a non-standard dialect might be used by the speaker, the opener/closer will adhere to hyoujungo. A microphone will most likely be used, even if it does not seem necessary due to a small crowd or small space.

Norms of Interaction and Interpretation

Gestures and proxemics figure very importantly within the highly ritualized nature of these opening and closing ceremonies. Both opener/closer and speaker must make precise, purposeful bows several times during each of their actions. The opener/closer will bow toward the stage (as a sign of respect for the event or institution) before ascending to the dais. Before fully approaching the podium or the microphone, he or she will bow again several times, once back toward area where the speaker and other event managers are seated, once toward the audience, and if there are parents or other honored guests seated in a specific area, once more toward them. This series of bows will be repeated in reverse order when the opener/closer leaves the stage, and will be repeated both by the speaker and again by the opener/closer in the closing of the ceremony.


These ceremonies are rituals. No one expects deviation from the norm, and in fact, surprise or uniqueness seems to be avoided. It almost seems as if they are designed to be unmemorable, for maintaining the norms and precedents of this societal function, leaving mutually held assumptions intact, and feathers unruffled. Even the speaker’s speech, while up to him or her, rarely includes jokes, and never approaches anything more than a recitation of a prepared speech. Any type of unique performance by the speaker, or playing to the audience, would be an exception to the norm.

While it is impossible to predict the exact pattern of every type of event across an entire country, there is an extremely high chance that the preceding factors will define any ceremony that you attend in Japan. They all follow this general pattern, in order to achieve the goals of keeping society going, of sustaining the reality shared and expected by the participants (Wardhaugh, 2010, p. 254). These instructions will give you the information necessary to share in these same expectations.


Austin, J.L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hymes, D. H. (1974). Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Second Edition, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications.

Shibatani, M. (1990). The Languages of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wardhaugh, (2010). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. (6th ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Alphabet Recognition Errors in Japanese JHS EFL Learners

In two classes of 9th grade junior high level EFL learners in a Japanese junior high school, we conducted an email lesson. We first asked students to send a test email with their name and a short greeting to another address that we had made specifically for our class (it’s now defunct). The address was:

The variety of errors that arose from this simple task were striking. Thanks to the medium of email, I was able to go back into the student email account later and make a complete list of the specific errors. They are listed below, with the error portion bolded and underlined.


Particularly surprising (and exasperating) to us as teachers, were the substitutions of j and 1 for a lowercase l. This is symptomatic of the commonality of recognition errors between uppercase I and lowercase I in sans serif fonts. (See my other post on choosing fonts for elementary learners)

These errors actually had a negative result on the project, aside from the time taken to address and correct them. So many emails were sent and returned as undeliverable by the server within a short time period that Gmail blocked the account from sending mail for 24 hours. We had to create an entirely new address for class the next day.

Appropriate Font for Elementary EFL Learners

What font is appropriate for elementary school learners who are just becoming familiar with the shapes of the alphabet? While Comic Sans might reign supreme in American schools, I knew that there must be a better font for modeling written letterforms. I recently made a set of PIT! style cards, and I wanted to have the names of the card categories written on them in both uppercase and in lowercase letters, so that students can pick up on the similarities and differences in the two alphabets as they play the game.

I encountered a problem though. I did not want to use a serif font face. I feel that the flourishes on the ends of the letters are confusing to beginning students, who will be mostly writing the letters by hand, if writing them at all (The guidelines for elementary foreign language activities set by the Japanese Ministry of Education rule out writing as skill to be taught – recognition and familiarity are the goals).

Often, students confuse the serifs for separate lines or strokes that have to be replicated with their pencil or pen. However, serifs do add useful information for readers, particularly the difference between a capital letter I and a lowercase l. What I wanted was a fontface that incorporated serifs selectively.

The following image illustrates the I/l confusion in sans serif fonts like Helvetica (at bottom), compared to Times New Roman (at top).

illadvisedI feel that Helvetica is not an appropriate font to use when introducing the alphabet to students in school for the first time.

In the end, I found a compromise in the font Meiryo, which is show below.


This font distinguishes clearly between the two letters. It’s a good middle ground. Here are the cards that I ended up making:

Corn SaromaPitFaceRED