Anyone concerned with teaching and learning must consider intelligence, not as a fixed capacity, but one always subject to instances and context. To that point, Annie Murphy Paul blogged "Brilliantly" today (link), summarizing and re-organizing the emerging science of learning. I've recapped her categories here with a few thoughts of my own:
Situations can make us smarter. Intelligence is as intelligence does. Children and adults alike learn and perform in a context, and we, as "context builders" and managers have a lot to do with learning outcomes. As I consider the content I want to "present" to the learners, I must also think about the arrangements I might make for that content to be relevant, actionable, and memorable.
Beliefs can make us smarter. Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth, and Carol Dweck have taught us that non-cogntive factors, like "grit" and "optimism" hugely affect learning & performance outcomes over entire lives. These are not some vague attributes, nor are they fixed. The self-told story matters. We can help habitually pessimistic students re-frame their experience in a more productive way.
Expertise can make us smarter. Expertly-held knowledge is different from that of the newbie. Experts are those, who over thousands of hours of trial and error, have converted slow-thinking neural paths into fast-thinking, pattern-recognizing raceways to performance. In performance, the marginal differences between experts and nons are largely reflected in unconscious processing.
Attention can make us smarter. We live in attention-starved times. The ubiquity of screens today is the teacher's greatest challenge. To be a master teacher is an artist at attention-getting and attention-steering.
Emotions can make us smarter. Just as optimistic renderings of one's life story need not be accurate to be fruitful, the feeling of hope is irrational (given the dark facts of our existence) but it works. Mirth, solidarity and pity can all drive us to learn and perform better.
Technology can make us smarter. Language evolved to allow humans to store and share knowledge outside of their personal skulls. Writing accelerated this capability and printing put us into orbit. Now we have to watch it, as the proliferation of gadgets (see "screens" above) may make us dumber and less attentive.
Our bodies can make us smarter. We need sleep. Our brains need food. More more deeply than Paul suggests here, all our knowledge, even the most abstract must be grounded in concrete experience. Even as adults we cannot grasp new ideas without the metaphors based in embodied knowledge.
Relationships can make us smarter. Humans evolved to dominate the planet by collaborating. Twenty-first century man remains a deeply social animal. Social capital figures more deeply in the differences in achievement that physical capital, and certainly more than sheer indiviudual intelligence. Our institutions define and support us as learners and performers.
"The science of learning suggests that we ought to imagine our roles—as parents, as professionals, as learners. We should aim to be situation-makers—creators of circumstances that evoke intelligence in ourselves and others." -AMP