I use it in my low-income 100% free lunch first grade, and I love it. There is a pro and originator of the idea (I think her user name is cvolteacher/Kerry Weisner) who will probably jump in and comment on this thread - She is a great resource having used it for many years, and is always very helpful and responsive with questions.
I started using it in a PBIS school because I felt like I had gone from teacher to ticket-lady. I couldn't reward the kids who were always behaving fast enough, and the kids who didn't always behave were getting tickets for silly things like lining up that the other kids always did correctly anyway. It didn't feel fair that Joey got a ticket for lining up correctly on day 120 when Susie had been doing it correctly all year (kind of like if my teaching partner got a bonus for figuring out guided reading in May when I had been doing it with great results all year without the bonus or for the same one). Plus, when I did try to reward all my Susies, all I did was pass out tickets or chart points all day. I noticed the 'bad' kids were disinterested once they got to redeem their tickets and realized that the 'good' kids could get more or better things than them anyway. My biggest struggle was that the 'bad' kids thought of themselves as 'bad' kids, and so did the 'good' kids. The 'bad' kids lived up to their expectations of themselves - Of course I have to sit out at recess, I'm going to have to anyway so why bother trying? I wanted them to stop thinking of themselves as the kid who was always in trouble.
I feel like this program would have to be school-wide in order to work. Otherwise I'd be the teacher where the kids don't "get anything". - It would be easier school wide, but for me it's not. I find other ways to invest kids in the classroom, like tracking their sight word progress on the walls so they're motivated to stay focused while practicing, or timing their math drills (quietest 2 minutes of the day!), or rewarding them for working so hard while I individually test students by 'just deciding' to take them out to recess 5 minutes early. If they get tickets from the specialist teachers, great! We talk about the fun things we've done (that science experiment was SO COOL!) so that when the other kids on the bus whip out their bouncy balls, mine have something they feel good about too. Plus, their 'normal' is the 6 hours they're with me, and that's what's on their mind. They're not sitting there missing tickets - That might happen for 10 minutes on the bus, but oh well, that's just not what we do in our room.
Anyway, does the program really work? - As long as I work REALLY hard not to just snap at them with a consequence, which was my previous go-to (Flip a card! Move your clip! 5 minutes of recess!). If I focus on keeping it working, it works. I put a big poster with my teacher questions on the back wall where I'm always facing to remind me
Do the kids really buy into it? - YES. After a week or two of explaining and practicing and finding examples in books and our classroom, they use the language unprompted. They need a LOT of demoing, since it's a new way of thinking, and they need strategies and practice solving problems. You have to give them scripts for what to do if they want/need something from another kid (to stop hitting, to give a pencil back, etc.) so they revert to that instead of hitting, grabbing, bad language, tattling, etc. We talk about what each level looks like in the cafeteria, in the hall, lining up, on the carpet, in math...It's a lot of up front work for a big payoff. My favorite was the retained 'bad kid' who threw massive kicking screaming temper tantrums multiple times a day until February, who said on the last day, "Ms. __, I used to make bad choices but now I can change them to good ones." It takes a LONG time, but those are exactly the kids who need it.
Do they miss the "rewards/privileges"? - I think they would if they were older and more conditioned to receiving them, or if I used rewards and then took them away, but I start the year this way so it is the 'normal' of their new teacher and new classroom. Like I said, I work in fun stuff in other ways and then we talk about what was fun so they can identify it. Plus, I teach them to identify the behaviors they're proud of: "Wow, you were so quiet in the hallway that the kindergarteners didn't even look up when you passed! You helped them learn, and you gave them a great example to follow. What level would that be? Why? How did you feel when you worked together that way? Give each other a thumbs up!" Or "Joey, I noticed that when Susie dropped her pencil case, you just bent over to help and she didn't even ask you to. What level was that choice? Why? What did it feel like when you did that?" I'm explicitly teaching intrinsic rewards in the same way that I implicitly teach phonics.
Some of the rewards I used to use were sit in the teacher's chair/write with a gel pen/show and tell, etc. Is there a way to still incorporate this into my classroom? - Yes, just do it! Have a 'gel pen' day for Tuesday spelling word practice, or set up a system where 5 kids use them all day Mon, 5 kids Tues, etc. Work it into your plans so that it builds investment instead of rewarding behaviors.