The purpose of a Critical Reflection paper is to demonstrate competency and ultimately mastery of a specific program domain. The Critical Reflection serves as a "cover document" for each competency area and the associated artifacts that will be shared (link: Critical Reflection Rubric). It should weave theoretical understanding and fluency together with knowledge of and reflection on the seminal works (primary literature associated with the specific competency); it should also demonstrate a participant's specific experiential learning, and practical application in each associated competency area. A Critical Reflection Paper should be 1500 words (minimum) in length. A Critical Reflection Paper typically includes three well-blended elements. These elements are woven together through the work and should not stand alone as separate sections. Learning experiences should be intertwined with relevant theories and concepts, explanations, understanding and analysis of what learning occurred, along with what might have happened if a different plan of action had been followed. Let's examine the three elements more closely:
a) Summarize the experience of learning. This might include what you have done related to the competency area and what the measurable outcomes were. It might also include a summary of your strategy going into the experience, your perceptions as the experience unfolded, what behaviors you engaged in during the experience and how the experience influenced you and others. It is important that your summary cover not only the facts of what happened, but also your perceptions and impressions of those facts as they transpired. It might also be relevant to compare what happened in your experience to what happened in other experiences like yours, or other experiences in which you have participated. Remember that the purpose is to demonstrate learning (what you have learned). In the summary, you will need to decide what facts are relevant to the specific learning that you describe.
b) Identify and explain relevant conceptual material (theories) related to the competency area. In this part of the reflection paper, the point is to demonstrate your "ownership" of the theories that you identify. The first half of ownership is being able to describe and explain the concepts and theories. In the best of all reflection papers, this element of the paper should be able to stand alone as an explanation of the related concepts and theories. The identification of this relevant conceptual material should not make reference to the situation you are going to analyze – that comes later! In this part of the paper, just identify and explain the relevant concepts and theories. Also, don't assume that the reader knows this information. The point is not whether the reader knows the information – the point is whether you know it. Also, there is a tendency in this part of the reflection paper to try to explain as many concepts or ideas as seem relevant. Don't fall into this trap! If you try to explain too many ideas, you will not be able to explain any of them in enough depth to really demonstrate your ownership/competency. Stick with core concepts that you see as most central to your focus.
c) Use the concepts and theories to analyze what happened in the experience. The other half of demonstrating ownership/competency with the central concepts and theories is to be able to apply them successfully and insightfully. That application may include using them to explain why what happened in your experience happened. It might include using the concepts and theories to explain how or why you might have behaved differently, and what might have happened if you had. It might include using the concepts and theories to suggest what you should do the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. In this element of your reflection paper, it is critical that you USE the concepts, and theories to drive your analysis of your experience. Thus, it is not sufficient in your analysis to know what to do; you also need to correctly explain why to do it. Using concepts and theories to explain "why" is what applying theory is all about.